Friday, April 17, 2009

SOUTH DAKOTA NEWS: Jury Still Out On Effectiveness of Reflectors

An experiment to reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions along Interstate 90 near Mitchell is now in its second year, but officials involved with the project say they have yet to see a major change in the number of accidents.

“It’s still kind of inconclusive yet as far as whether it’s a real benefit,” said Jeff Gustafson, the Mitchell region operations engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. “Hopefully, the benefit will pay off in the long run.”

In September 2007, long lines of reflectors were placed along three stretches of I-90, including two segments near Mitchell and Mount Vernon and another near Sioux Falls.

The devices are manufactured to reflect light from a vehicle’s headlights into the eyes of a deer and discourage the animal from attempting to cross a road. Gustafson said the three areas in eastern South Dakota were selected for the project because of their high rate of deer-vehicle collisions.

After purchasing and installing the reflectors, the DOT released an analysis on the reflectors’ effectiveness a year later. While the study did show that reported deer-vehicle collisions in the three areas were down from 49 between October 2006 and September 2007 to 37 a year later, the number of dead deer removed from the areas rose, from 154 to 161.

The report said the reduction in reported accidents meant a return on an initial investment of $88,751, but Gustafson said the results aren’t enough to proclaim the program a success.

“We will ... keep analyzing the data, but we will probably not be putting any new ones up in any new locations until we verify that this is a good program or worth (the) money,” Gustafson said.

Art Smith, wildlife damage management program administrator for the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said he personally doesn’t believe the reflectors have been successful.

With no official scientific control – an area with similar conditions that does not have reflectors, for example – Smith said it’s difficult to determine what kind of difference, if any, the reflectors are making.

Smith said the reflectors have three inherent problems:

– They’re difficult to keep clean and at a proper angle;

– there’s no proof that light deters animal movements;

– and the idea that reflectors can affect animal behavior is, according to Smith, an “iffy proposition at best.”

Instead of the reflectors, Smith said he’d like to see a system that uses a roadside beam that, when broken, would set off a flashing yellow light to alert the driver.

“I am more inclined to believe that we have a better chance at affecting driver behavior rather than wild animal behavior,” Smith said. “We’ll never eliminate (accidents), but maybe we can reduce them”

Both Smith and Gustafson admit there’s no money in the budget for such a device right now. In the meantime, they intend to keep an eye on future results and hope scientific evidence will give an accurate reading on the reflectors’ effects.

“Hopefully, the benefit will pay off in the long run,” Gustafson said.

Source: Argus Leader

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