New I-90 fence should lessen car-elk collisions

elk in road with car approachingA work crew braved frigid weather last weekend to deter elk from crossing Interstate 90 near Vantage, installing six miles of fence alongside the freeway.

It’s a seasonal problem that puts motorists at risk each winter when hundreds of elk migrate from the Colockum highlands to their winter refuge along the Columbia River.

Last year, 80 elk died in vehicle collisions, and six more already have been struck just since Jan. 1.

I asked one of our claims managers to compare the number of car-deer collisions versus car-elk collisions. He didn’t have that data at his fingertips but said elk collisions are fairly uncommon.

That makes sense after reading a 2008 report from the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on collisions involving deer, elk, and vehicles. During the four-year study period, 14,969 deer were removed from Washington freeways and state highways following collisions, versus 415 elk.

That means just 2.7% of such collisions involved elk. But the significance isn’t found in frequency – it’s severity.

Vantage bridgeAs you might imagine, elk collisions are severe. Hitting a deer is bad enough – your car is likely to suffer a smashed front end. The average white-tailed deer stands three feet tall and weighs 150 pounds.

But the average elk stands five feet tall and weighs 725 pounds. Rather than merely smash your grill, an elk is tall enough to crush your front end, skid across your hood and crash through your windshield.

The damage could be similar to nasty underride collisions with semitrucks, where a tailgating car smashes into – and underneath – the truck’s trailer.

WSDOT data shows most vehicle collisions involving deer and elk occur during October – January. So drive with caution.

view of trees and mountains The same data shows us where we should drive extra carefully: The highest number of elk/vehicle collisions in Eastern Washington occur on I-90 near Easton and Cle Elum. West of the Cascades, many elk/vehicle collisions have occurred in the Packwood-Randle vicinity on U.S. 12, and on I-90 near North Bend.

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