Device might help avoid dangerous close encounters with deer


September 26, 1994

It's unintentional deer season.

Each year, hundreds of automobile accidents result from encounters with deer.

It's a problem that has grown as Maryland's deer population has flourished, surging each fall as mating deer become more active.

In 1992, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 868 accidents were attributed to vehicles hitting wildlife on Maryland roads and highways.

Those included one fatal crash, 119 collisions where a driver or passenger was injured and 748 with significant property damage.

L Probably most, if not all, of those accidents involved deer.

Soon, the State Highway Administration will be setting up experiments to protect motorists and deer from their close encounters.

They feature a relatively simple device that has proven to be effective elsewhere.

They are called wildlife warning reflectors, prism-shaped pieces of plastic about 8 inches tall with red reflectors on two of three sides.

Mounted on poles spaced 50 to 100 feet apart, the reflectors are aimed to spill light across the road.

When a car's headlight beam hits the reflector, the light is redirected at a 90-degree angle.

This results in a brief flash in the eyes of any wildlife that might be approaching the highway.

Like celebrities caught off-guard by paparazzi, startled deer are unlikely to cross the road at that moment -- at least that's the theory.

"They turn around and run," says Eric P. Tabacek, an SHA traffic engineer who is experimenting with the reflectors.

A quarter-mile section of Route 220 in western Allegany County was outfitted with the devices last year and SHA maintenance crews are finding fewer dead deer.

In a matter of weeks, Mr. Tabacek will expand the experiment to test sites in Harford and Cecil counties and portions of the Eastern Shore.

Manufactured in Austria, the reflectors cost about $17 each, not counting the metal or plastic poles. Installing them along a mile of highway could cost between $5,000 and $8,000, officials estimate.

But that could be money well spent.

The average vehicle repair bill after a deer collision is $2,000. An accident involving injury can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and legal bills.

"If they work, it makes sense to install them anywhere we have a problem with deer," Mr. Tabacek says.

Caller questions Md.'s directions

Could our state be the victim of a leftist plot?

That's the accusation leveled at Intrepid Commuter by a caller. It was a disturbing enough allegation to make this columnist put down his signed first edition of "Communist Manifesto" and pay heed.

His gripe is this: When presented with two lanes of traffic at an

intersection, Maryland traffic engineers inevitably combine left-turn and straight-through drivers in one lane and right turners in the other.

"With left turn and straight arrow lanes, there is a possibility of more accidents because people can't see what cars on the other side are doing," says the caller, a recent arrival to The Big Crab. "They seem to be causing more accidents than saving time."

We presented his contention to Tom Hicks, the SHA's head of traffic and safety. He is skeptical that Maryland combines the two lanes more often than other states.

He is equally doubtful that combining them raises accident rates.

However, Mr. Hicks would agree with the observation that straight-through traffic is combined with lefts more frequently.

Often, he notes, it is advantageous to avoid blocking right-turning motorists because they can turn right on red after stopping.

Engineers also are reluctant to force drivers to weave. Or, putting it another way, if you are headed straight through an intersection, it's unwise to make you turn the wheel to the right to move over and then to the left to get back in the correct lane on the other side of the intersection. "If you force them to the right you tend to head them to ward parked cars or the shoulder," Mr. Hicks says.

But most important, a smart traffic engineer directs traffic with a knowledge of the prevailing traffic pattern. He studies traffic flow for hours on end and then decides who should get what lane.

If the majority of cars are turning left, an engineer should probably give the left turners their own lane. If most cars are going right, they deserve the exclusive lane.


* Remember the two city intersections along University Parkway that had become a problem because the eastbound Parkway traffic stopped at a red signal at Linkwood Road sometimes mistakenly starts forward when the light turns green at nearby 39th Street/San Martin Drive? To help matters, the city public works department has erected a sign, "This Is Your Signal," at the Linkwood light.

* An alert caller told us that two pedestrian crossing indicators were burned out at Lexington Avenue and St. Paul Street. We passed along the tip, and the city replaced the bulbs late last week. We remind our readers that problems with signals in the city can be directed to the public works department at 396-3050.

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