Lower speed at night reduces car collisions with wildlife, study shows
Blood, guts, deer and elk – on the shoulder of Colorado Highway 13, they’re often one and the same. And they often go together with wrecked cars and crumpled hoods. But a study that began 13 months ago is showing some evidence that a nighttime speed limit will reduce animal-caused accidents on the highway. The Colorado Department of Transportation reduced the nighttime speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph along Highway 13 between Rifle and Wyoming.So far, it’s working. Highway 13 is the only road in Colorado with a nighttime speed limit, and CDOT and Colorado State Patrol officials say the speed reduction is a tentative success because during some months there has been a 50 percent reduction in wildlife-related accidents.Only during one month, Sept. 2005, were there more animal-related accidents than the previous year, according to CSP. Even though the amount of traffic – especially oil and gas-related commercial traffic – has increased on Highway 13, the number of wildlife collisions has dropped, said CSP Captain Brett Williams, whose Craig-based troop patrols Highway 13 between the Garfield County line and Wyoming. CSP did not have animal-caused accident statistics for Garfield County’s 17 mile stretch of Highway 13. In January 2005, for example, there were 58 accidents involving wildlife, but only 29 in January 2006, he said.CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said the statistics are encouraging, but the study is far from complete, because the agency needs three years to gather adequate information to determine if the speed reduction works. The reduced nighttime speed limit will likely remain in place at least through 2008, she said. Once the study is complete, CDOT will determine whether to make the night time speed limit permanent and whether to expand it to other highways based on accident statistics gathered during the study on Highway 13, Shanks said. After initially stepping up its patrols along the highway to “educate” speeding drivers, CSP has returned to its normal patrolling at night and officers have not increased the number of speeding tickets they have written there, Williams said. “Most people who live around the Western Slope slow down (at night) anyway” to avoid deer and other animals crossing the road, he said. As a bonus, the lower speed limit seems to have reduced the number of accidents on the highway overall, he said. Both Shanks and Williams said their agencies received few complaints about the lower speed limit.
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