Radar Love: Can Radar Prevent Car/Wildlife Collisions?

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | Dec 02, 2015

Nothing ruins a scenic drive quite like running into an elk or a moose. Can radar help? Just ask drivers on the stunning 20-mile drive between Fernie and Elko, British Columbia.

Obedient elk. (Anita Ritenour)

Infamous for common and often fatal crashes between automobiles and large ungulates, this stretch of Highway 3 has become the latest testing site for a high-tech warning system designed to save both human and non-human lives.

Following similar successful pilot tests in the U.S. and other parts of Canada, British Columbia’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (BCMTI) has installed a million-dollar radar-based wildlife detection system. When a large animal steps into the radar beam it triggers warning sign lights to flash, alerting drivers who will, hopefully, ease up on the gas.

Bull elk. (Larry Lamsa)

Here at Car Talk, we like to find the humor in living with automobiles whenever possible. But there’s nothing funny about wildlife-vehicle collisions. An adult bull elk weighs in at about 700 lbs. (315 kg), and a bull moose at over 1500 lbs. (700 kg). Compare that to the weight of a motorcycle (400-700 lbs/200-350 kg) or the best-selling Toyota Camry (3,190 lbs/1447 kg) and it’s easy to see why these unintentional meetings are devastating to driver, passengers, wildlife, and vehicles.

These detection systems rely on the fact that wild animals are creatures of habit. Researchers observe and note the places most used by various species of interest and site their radar guns accordingly.

(Kirt Edblom)

Humans are creatures of habit, too. Often we don’t even notice common road signs unless we’re intentionally looking for information. Flashing lights quickly notify even a daydreaming driver to Pay Attention! Placed far enough from wildlife crossings, lights provide the driver with enough time to slow down—assuming, of course, his or her eyes are the road instead of a smartphone.

BCMTI will review the data collected on Highway 3 throughout the testing period. If deemed successful, radar-assisted warning signs may become a common feature of Canada’s highway system.

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