Moose need a brake; and we should give one


Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

There are commercials on television of late with people driving, talking to friends, laughing, telling stories, when all of a sudden, a vehicle comes out of nowhere and — BOOM! — there’s a collision.

It happens in a flash. Things come out of nowhere — and nowhere do people know that better than in Alaska, where moose figure prominently in that scenario.

Rare is the Alaska driver who has never had a moose cross the road in front of them.

This week, the Clarion ran a series of articles highlighting the different perspectives of moose on our roads — how we benefit from and suffer the consequences of these encounters. We found out we aren’t alone in dealing with the issue of safety on the road when it’s us versus them. Other states and countries deal with the same problems, the same concerns. Together we’re searching for that perfect technology to provide the answer.

Until then, there’s only one answer: Be alert when you drive.

It doesn’t help that the behemoths are dark and tend to mingle near roadways, but knowing to expect the unexpected can be enough to help keep your vehicle in one piece and keep you — and the animal — alive.

Still, there’s no controlling weather, other drivers and darting moose. Accidents do happen.

The result, as the Clarion pointed out, can mean an accidental dinner. That’s where the charity call list comes in.

When a moose is downed due to a vehicle accident and reported to Alaska State Troopers, troopers call one of approximately 40 charities. The charity then takes responsibility for removing the entire moose from the scene of the accident and for salvaging the meat.

The central Kenai Peninsula is a magnet for moose collisions. The top three risky areas are the Kenai Spur Highway between Soldotna and Kenai, along the Sterling Highway between Sterling and Soldotna and along Kalifornsky Beach Road between Soldotna and Bridge Access Road at Kenai.

Alaska State Troopers say their top numbers for collisions in 2005 occurred between Mile 94 and 109, roughly the stretch between Soldotna to Kasilof on the Sterling Highway, where 22 moose collisions were reported.

Second was between Mile 80 and Mile 91 of the Sterling Highway between Sterling and the Soldotna Golf Course north of Soldotna, where 19 moose died.

Then the Kasilof to Ninilchik run (Miles 109 to 135), where 18 were killed. Fifteen were killed between Mile 65 at the bottom of Jean Lake Hill and Sterling.

For obvious reasons, moose cause a lot of damage to vehicles, which averages between $2,500 and $5,000 in repair costs following a collision.

Luckily, human fatalities are rare. Unfortunately, the fatality rate for moose is not. Even when one survives the crash, it’s often too maimed to live.

Since 1988, the recorded number of moose killed by vehicles on the Kenai Peninsula has ranged anywhere from 366 to 171 per year. So far in regulatory year 2005-06, which started July 1, 176 moose have been killed. Over the last 20 years, the average is 263.

Amazingly, a large number of moose accidents probably go unreported because people don’t know they should report the accident or are trying to avoid contact with law enforcement.

So what can we do to prevent hitting moose?

Trooper Lt. Pete Mlynarik recommends investing in extra lighting for vehicles. Make your path visible so you can see both shoulders of the road. It doesn’t need to be over the top, it just needs to open up your range of view.

Slow down. The speed limit is adequate for clear vision, but when another vehicle’s headlights are in your eyes, it’s raining and dark — or dusk — take your time.

Technology will catch up to us eventually and help reduce the risk of collisions. Until then, it’s up to us to take the high road. The only moose that should be hanging from your mirror is a moose-shaped air freshener.

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