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The Dangers Of Animals On Texas Roadways

Why did the chicken cross the road? To show the armadillo that it can be done!

From the semi-tropical coastal plain to the mountainous deserts in the west, Texas is unique among all the states and, other than alpine meadows and arctic tundra, Texas has just about every type of landscape that one can encounter. The varying landscape means varying populations of animals that can pose dangers if they are encountered on the roadway. From alligators in the southeast to antelope and mule deer in the west, Texas has it all and each animal poses its own particular type of hazards. Being aware of the animal populations one can encounter and learning how to deal with an animal or herd of animals on the road is critical.

According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, approximately 200 motorists each year are killed in animal related collisions, either from direct impact with a large animal or veering off the road or into oncoming traffic while trying to avoid hitting the animal. In addition to the deaths, more than 26,000 motorists are involved in animal related crashes each year.

No matter how small or large, all animals, wild or domestic, can pose hazards to drivers. No one wants to injure or kill an animal that has wandered out into the road but, if that happens, drivers face some critical decisions and they often have to make that decision within a second or two. Having a plan in advance can make that decision process a lot shorter.

When encountering an animal, the natural response is to veer out of the way to avoid hitting it but that can be a fatal choice. Drivers need to be aware that they can encounter an animal at any time and they need to be aware of the driving situation around them in order to make the best choice. Unfortunately, quite often, the best choice for a driver is to hit the animal. Veering to avoid the animal can take you into oncoming traffic or off the roadway where it is difficult to recover. Veering to avoid the animal can have tragic consequences not only for you and your passengers but also for other motorists on the road.

The deaths in animal related collisions most often involved deer. Deer can be a catch-all phrase for any type of large, hoofed animal and Texas has quite a few of them. Understanding the behavior of these animals and where they can be encountered, can help a driver prepare for an encounter.
  • White Tailed Deer - This animal is the most common type of deer found in the US and can be encountered in any part of Texas. Deer tend to herd in small groups made up primarily of does and their offspring. Deer are most commonly encountered in the early morning or at dusk and can be seen foraging along the side of the road. If you see one deer, you can count on others being nearby. Before sunrise or at dusk, your first hint of a deer along the road may be the reflection of your headlights in their eyes. If you see deer, start slowing immediately and sound your horn. Do not flash your bright lights or you will encounter the proverbial deer caught in the headlights phenomenon where the deer freeze in place. Your best bet is to scare them with your horn and hope that they run back into the woods but be prepared for them to escape across the roadway directly into your path.
  • Mule Deer - This animal is most commonly found in the arid southwest part of the state. Mule deer have seasonal migrations in the spring and fall when they move to higher elevations and back in search of food. Weather conditions can also force them to migrate into areas where they are not commonly seen. Just like the White Tail, these animals tend to hide away under the shelter of trees during the heat of the day and come out to forage at dusk and dawn. Unlike the White Tail Deer, the Mule Deer does not wave its white tail in the air. Some species of Mule Deer have dark tails and all species tend to keep their tails down making them more difficult to see at night than the White Tail Deer.
  • Pronghorn Antelope - This animal is most often encountered in the high plains from the Panhandle to the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. Pronghorn normally live alone or in small bands during the summer but gather into large herds during the winter. Unlike the deer, this animal forages at all times of the day and night. The Pronghorn is the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere and can easily run at speeds of 45 mph for long distances and can, in some instances, reach speeds of up to 60 mph. Unlike the Cheetah, which can only run at high speeds for short spurts, the Pronghorn can maintain a high speed for long distances. Encountering a Pronghorn at these speeds combined with the speed of your vehicle can be devastating.
  • Fallow Deer - This animal is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe but was brought to Texas for hunting purposes. These deer were primarily kept on ranges but have broken out and now occupy 93 Texas counties with a population of approximately 14,000 animals. Their behavior is similar to the White Tail and Mule Deer. The males gather in small bachelor groups. Females and their young are normally segregated into their own groups.

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