The sight of a dead animal by the side of the road is always heartbreaking, and in Germany, it’s a particularly big problem, with an estimated one million car versus animal encounters on German roads annually. Most of those incidents end badly for the animal, but sometimes for the driver as well; larger animals like deer, elk and boars can cause serious damage to cars, and in some cases lead to deaths. 20 people died on German roads last year as a result of animal-related collisions, and insurance claims related to such events were also very high.
For a radical illustration of how large roadkill looms, German researchers estimate that of the wildlife killed in Germany annually, around 20% die as a result of being hit by cars.
That’s a lot of deaths, and German rangers, policy officials and highway safety officers want to do something to change that, especially in the heavily forested regions of Germany where wildlife traffic tends to be heavy. Foxes, badgers, rabbits and numerous other small animals attempt to cross roads in the millions each year, and not all of them make it safely to the other side. Drivers, meanwhile, fear accidents with deer and other large animals, knowing that they have little time to stop if they see animals in the road, and that a panicked animal can behave unpredictably, potentially creating a dangerous situation.
A number of tools have been proposed for dealing with the problem, but it’s proving to be a complex issue. One proposal involved reflectors that would flash when cars approach, designed to deter animals, but they didn’t seem to have a big effect. Hunters also tried “odor fences,” using foam scented with predator urine to make the area around the road unappealing, pushing deer into safer areas. This, too, didn’t seem to work very well.
One option can be effective: it activates flashing lights in the roadway when deer and other large animals are approaching. Unfortunately, it’s not very cost-effective for installation across Germany, and it doesn’t do much for small animals. Another solution is appearing in German cars themselves, as well as those from other nations with a big roadkill problem: collision detectors designed to identify the signs of wildlife and help drivers avoid them. Such safety devices can help people avoid pedestrian collisions and other accidents, too, but they’re expensive, don’t come standard on every new car, and of course don’t do much for those driving older models.
Here’s a really cool solution: the green bridge, aka wildlife overpass. Instead of creating a narrow crossing bridge or tunnel, it acts more like an extension to hook up habitat that would otherwise be segmented by the road. Deer and other animals can cross the landscaped overpass safely, allowing drivers to pass freely below. It can be costly to implement, but it might be a good long-term solution to the issue, as it addresses issues like habitat segmentation as well as wildlife and road safety.
In addition, many of these overpasses accommodate farm vehicles, too, which keeps them out of the road so they don’t disturb the flow of traffic. In communities where such vehicles commonly have to take to public roads and subsequently cause traffic jams, this can be a serious safety problem, as changes in the flow of traffic increase the risk of accidents. With a green bridge, this problem is sideskirted, keeping farmers and animals safer along with drivers!
Ongoing research in Germany continues to find a solution to the roadkill problem, and some nations are looking forward eagerly to the results to tackle roadkill issues of their own. With more and more cars on the road these days, animals are at even more risk, and it’s time for that to change.
Photo credit: Tiberiu Ana.