Vehicle collisions with animals on Victorian roads may play a greater role in accidents than is currently understood, researchers suggest.
RACV statistics show insurance claims for animal collisions in Victoria have risen in recent years, with over 5300 claims made for animal collisions in the 2015-16 financial year, up one per cent on average claims.
Springs Road and the Western Freeway are the top two highest risk roads for kangaroo and vehicle collision in the Ballarat region, according to an analysis of injured wildlife reports to Wildlife Victoria.
The Midland Highway is the highest risk road for collisions with kangaroos, wombats, koalas, wallabies or possums, based on injured wildlife reports.
Kangaroo collisions are the most represented in animal collision figures, with 82 per cent of all claims for animal collisions to RACV in the 2015-16 financial year involving kangaroos.
HIGH RISK AREAS FOR WILDLIFE COLLISIONS
University of Melbourne Associate Professor Rodney van der Ree has been studying the impacts of road and traffic on wildlife for over 15 years.
He said there was not necessarily more road kill at certain times of the year, but the rate of vehicle collisions with animals was dependent on the presence of animals, the presence of cars and the speed of vehicles.
“Some outer suburban roads tend to run through landscapes where there is good habitat for kangaroos and good feed for them at certain times of year which leads to high population of animals,” Mr van der Reee said.
“Traffic volume is also increasing as we build more in outer suburbs, and around places like Bacchus Marsh, Ballarat and Bendigo where traffic is increasing. More traffic in high animal population areas lead to more collisions.
“Spots where animals tend to move a bit more include creeks and waterways, or where forest is on one side of the road and grass on other where kangaroos will cross between trees and feed. Where animals cross is where they typically get hit.”
POTENTIAL TO MINIMISE RISK
Many believe that road kill is a reality of country living. But experts say there road design approaches could minimise the risk of animal collisions.
Wildlife corridors, animal underpasses and rope bridges on major roads can play an active role in minimising the threat and impacts of animals crossing major roads.
VicRoads acting regional director Mal Kersting said in a statement “safety is our key priority, which is why we are looking at a range of ideas and solutions to keep animals and drivers safe on and near our roads”.
University of Melbourne post-doctoral researcher Casey Visintin modeled the risk of collision between moving vehicles and wildlife during his PhD.
He said models show speed made a significant difference in animal collision statistics.
“Decrease vehicle speed models show less collisions,” Mr Visintin said.
Mr van der Reer said driver awareness of the risk of animal collisions may be part of a solution to reducing statistics.
“Perhaps when they get to registration with VicRoads there could be a reminder of the risk of wildlife vehicle collisions,” he said.
“GPS points of high risk collision areas could provide warning notifications.”
RISING CONCERN FOR DRIVER SAFETY
Victorian authorities have warned drivers that country roads are especially dangerous at dawn and dusk due to higher risk of animal collision.
A woman died in a single-vehicle crash near Stawell when the vehicle she was travelling in swerved to dodge a kangaroo on January 1.
A Daylesford couple were killed in a car crash near Denver trying to avoid a kangaroo in November 2016.
After the New Year’s Day fatality, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Doug Fryer said Victoria police implored everyone to drive to the conditions
“Our message is really clear. Should you be confronted by wildlife on the road, do not to swerve to the left or the right – break as hard and as safely as you can and brace for impact."
VicRoads latest available data shows 128 motorists were hurt in collisions with animals in 2015.
RACV general manager motor insurance Mark Geraghty said drivers were encouraged to scan the roadside for wildlife and reduce speed in areas of high risk.
“A 10 per cent reduction in speed leads to a 20 per cent reduction in collisions,” Mr Geraghty said.
Although dawn and dusk have been identified as the highest risk time for animal collisions, VicRoads said it was important motorists adhered to wildlife warning signs and were aware that native animals could be moving across roads during any part of the day.
VicRoads acting regional director Mal Kersting said the team were investigating ways to reduce the risk animal collisions particularly in areas such as Hepburn and Moorabool Shires where the community had raised concerns.
Members of the Daylesford and Trentham community attended a community meeting run by Wombat Forestcare and VicRoads in October 2017 in response to concerns about road safety and animal welfare in the local area.
A conference exploring the theme ‘connecting nature and connecting people’ and focussed on environmentally sensitive infrastructure will be held in Creswick in April.
ANIMAL SHELTER CARES FOR INJURED WILDLIFE
A volunteer-run wildlife rescue and treatment centre in the Wombate State Forest cares for hundreds of animals at a time, many which are injured in collisions on central Victoria’s roads.
Hepburn Wildlife Shelter, located just outside of Daylesford currently has over 200 injured animals in its care.
Hepburn Wildlife Shelter manager Jon Rowden said most incoming injured wildlife, on average two animals a day, had been injured on the roads.
Shelter director Gayle Chappell said roads had a tremendous impact on wildlife.
“There is a great deal of suffering out there because a lot of animals aren’t killed. People tend to leave them on the side of the roads more than they stop,” Ms Chappell said.
Mr Rowden described the shelter as a ‘war zone’.
“We are constantly battered by what is happening to the wildlife out there,” he said.
“On the whole, there is an underlying sense of being in a war zone when you are just seeing one damaged animal after another.”
Ms Chappell said driver education and attitude change toward road kill was a crucial step to reduce the number of wildlife injured on Victorian roads.
“Drivers just think it’s a part of living out in the country – that you see dead animals on the sides of the roads and you don’t think too much of it. But we should tell people who come through our area that we actually care about what happens to our wildlife,” Ms Chappell said.
Not all animals at the wildlife shelter are road injuries as Ms Chappell said it can be rare to save an animal that has been hit on the road.
“There can be kangaroos with shards in their legs and they will still try to hop through the bush and they can take days or weeks to die sometimes from their injuries after being hit on the road,” she said.
“I feel extremely frustrated.
“I am really thankful that we have the opportunity to help them. But I also feel extremely frustrated and exhausted because I just don’t see it changing in the future and I think it is going to get worse.”
Mr Rowden it was time to focus on awareness and driver behaviour rather than engineering solutions.
“It breaks your heart because you know that if people weren’t travelling quite so fast there wouldn’t be nearly as many animals hit,” he said.
“Being a tourist area in particular, driver education could be as simple as encouraging all the advertising and tourist information to recognise the fact that this is a wildlife habitat zone. Not only will it give people an opportunity to see some of these animals, but if you just warn them you are now driving through places where animals will cross or live on the roadside they might take responsibility themselves to slow down a little bit.”
Contact Wildlife Victoria on 03 8400 7300 for wildlife emergencies.