Wildlife speed limit reductions, doubled fine zones eliminated

Janelle O'Dea

— During holiday travel, Colorado drivers may notice an absence of wildlife road signs.

According to a press release from the Colorado Department of Transportation, “the combination of Wildlife Zone and nighttime speed limit signing has not produced statistical data that show this program is effective in reducing speeds and wildlife crashes.”

In 2010, House Bill 1238 passed allowing CDOT to lower the speed limit in 14 identified areas with wildlife near roads. The nighttime speed limit in these areas was reduced to 55 miles per hour from the daytime limit of 60 or 65 miles per hour.

The nighttime speed limit was effective between October and May.

Wildlife-vehicle accidents statewide decreased 16 percent between 2004 and 2013, according to CDOT data. CDOT’s press release said some of this could be attributed to the nighttime speed limit reduction, but the data isn’t significant enough to keep the programs in place.

In fact, based on recent two-year CDOT data, motorists generally exceeded the lowered speed limit by 7 miles per hour on average.

In 2013, there were 116 wildlife-vehicle crashes in Moffat County. One hundred and ten of the accidents involved property damage only, and in six crashes, the driver or passenger sustained injuries.

Routt County had fewer wildlife-vehicle crashes than Moffat, with 86 crashes in 2013. Eighty-three were property damage only, two had injuries and there was one fatality.

Of the 14 areas designated for reduced speed limits and doubled fines, eight saw a decrease in wildlife collisions while six saw an increase.

Nancy Shanks, communications manager for CDOT, said the department worked with several other organizations to identify the appropriate areas for lower speed limits.

“We already know where the zones are because we look at data year-round,” Shanks said. “We also worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife because they’re the experts in migration and travel patterns.”

Together, Parks and Wildlife and CDOT chose the areas. They also invited input from Colorado State Patrol because it would be the agency enforcing the consequences when a driver violated the lower speed limits.

“We chose those based on more than anything where the high hits are; we look at percentages for the most part,” Shanks said. “Where wildlife-vehicle collisions are a higher percentage of all accidents.”

CDOT chose only to post signage in areas lacking other types of mitigation, like fencing.

Shanks said CDOT also carefully chose the time of year.

“We worked with traffic engineers who are heavy into that knowledge and worked with CPW,” she said.

The groups went through a couple of seasons, and traffic engineers working with Parks and Wildlife thought the time frame should be extended through May because wildlife still are moving during that time.

“That’s the period we saw hits because wildlife are moving to winter ground or going back up for the summer,” Shanks said. “Then what you’ll find is when we have really harsh winters and it starts melting near roadway, you have animals trying to get to any bit of green that they can find.”

After the first couple of years of legislation, CDOT also tried using Wildlife Zones, where speeding fines were doubled in signed areas. These zones saw a 20 percent reduction in collisions during the years the Wildlife Zones were used.

Areas with both a reduced nighttime speed limit and doubled fines saw a 3 percent reduction in collisions.

“You could have put those signs anywhere in Northwest Colorado,” Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said at the Dec. 15 Moffat County commissioners meeting. He wondered if the program was an effort to raise revenue.

“Law enforcement citations increased 43 percent following implementation of the Wildlife Zones,” according to the CDOT press release.

But Shanks said the entire goal of the legislation was to get motorists to slow down and give themselves time to react. She agrees with Mathers on one point, though.

“We should all slow down, especially where we know wildlife are present, and that’s pretty much anywhere in Colorado,” Shanks said. “And we see more hits in November and December and between dusk and dawn, when they’re harder to see and when they’re moving. We should be all slowing down and giving ourselves some reaction time.”

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.

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