Driving in the Land Between
Driving in the city is quite different than country driving. In the city where there a lot more traffic and also more road infrastructure, a driver is often focused on the space immediately in front of them, to avoid collisions and to respond to road traffic controls. However in the country, when surrounded by natural areas, a driver needs to maintain an open and more distant gaze to see the broader environment. This is because country roads mean that there will be wildlife present. Country driving involves the risk of striking both large and small animals.
Southern Ontario has the highest concentration of roads, and this infrastructure is expanding ever more northward as people gravitate to the country. With road expansion, comes habitat fragmentation which leads to more wildlife on roads themselves.
Habitat fragmentation can increase the numbers of large species on roads such as deer (because they are unable to travel freely between regions without crossing the road), and also, it can increase the numbers of smaller species such as turtles who need to travel memorized routes between annual nesting, hibernation or feeding grounds within a dedicated territory. To reach parts of their native habitat, they now have to cross roads.
In addition to more roads and increased habitat fragmentation, there is also increasing road traffic from travelers to Cottage Country.
In Ontario alone there is about 14,000-15,000 wildlife collisions that are reported per year, almost all of which involve large mammals - like deer. Collisions with large mammals have significant impacts on our biodiversity affecting wildlife populations, as well as economic impacts costing the province and insurance companies tens of millions of dollars a year and of course, collisions also result in preventable injuries and deaths to humans. However, the numbers of actual wildlife road strikes are grossly underestimated, because people do not tend to report collisions with the numerous smaller animals. Turtles, raccoons, porcupines, amphibian, birds and other small mammals are also hit! All incidents have similar implications for wildlife populations, and for human health and safety.
In the Land Between the risk of such wildlife collisions is high as the landscape is primarily natural and is a vital and final stronghold for many of our wildlife species in the southern half of the province. In fact, The Land Between is home to 59 species that are already in jeopardy of reaching extinction, some of which are slow moving reptiles, such as blanding's, snapping and painted turtles, or even snakes - and these animals are needlessly placed at further risk because of road strikes.
So when you arrive in Cottage Country (The Land Between), drive aware with a soft gaze far ahead to be alerted to the presence of wildlife.
Other tips include:
- Where there are wetlands or low areas that are adjacent to the road, in summer months, be alert for crossing turtles, and at all times, river otters, beavers and muskrats.
- If there are large forested tracts on either side of the road, watch for deer.
- Porcupines and raccoons are slow moving creatures that walk about at night.
- Moose and bear are rarely on roads and perhaps will be on the pavement if their forested haunts have been disturbed from development, dogs, or excessive noise and people.
- At all times driving the speed limit with a far vantage point, will ensure you can react in time to avoid collisions with innocent animals.
- When spotting wildlife you can flash high-beams to alert oncoming traffic, put on hazard signals to alert traffic behind. When the animal is a slow moving one, such as turtle, that takes about 60 years to be replaced in nature, the use of hand signals may be helpful.
- Also, if you are going to stop and help wildlife, such as turtles, be sure to provide other drivers with advanced warnings as protecting human life is paramount. (To find out more about safely helping turtles to cross roads visit our Turtle Guardians website)
In order to stay safe and act as wildlife guardians it is essential that we change the way we drive in cottage country. Below are some helpful tips that you can employ to drive safely on country roads. Wildlife can be found on the road any time of the year, but the highest instance of collisions with deer and moose happen from May-August and for turtles from May-October.
How to drive safely in the Land Between
Below are some most powerful tools you have to keep both yourselves and wildlife safe on the roads. Some common methods of driving defensively include:
1. Drive the speed limit: This will help provide you with a greater opportunity to break in the event that you spot an animal.
2. Look ahead and on shoulders with relaxed eyes: Wildlife are present on road during all seasons. Watch both the road ahead and road shoulders so you be better able to spot wildlife and slow down or avoid them. Be sure to also watch for glowing eyes on shoulders! It is a good indicator of a possible road crossing.
3. Do not drive distracted. Stay alert: Do not use your phone when driving. If you are usually become distracted when selecting music, consider making a playlist before you start driving. If you are driving and must make a call or send a text, pull over (when it is safe to do so), and then make your communication. Avoid driving when tired.
4. Follow cars in front of you at a safe distance: Following too close to the car in front of you reduces your reaction time and your ability to watch the road. By following a few car lengths behind it allows you a greater chance to react to changes in road conditions or animals on the road.
5. Watch for warning signs and low-lying areas: In many high risk animal crossing areas have signs that are clearly posted on road sign. Upon seeing a sign be sure to drive defensively and follow the steps listed above. Turtles frequently cross roads in wetland or low-lying areas, exercise extra caution and scan the road for our slow moving friends when crossing through their habitat. Remember that turtle hatchlings are small and look like little rocks with tails, so keep an eye out!
6. Use your high beams when driving at night: When driving at night ensure you are using your high beams (when it is safe to do so). This will help increase the visibility of roads and road shoulders.
7. Be prepared and learn how to react appropriately if you see an animal on the road: For more information check out the How Can Drivers Reduce the Chances of Having a Wildlife Vehicle Collision? by Wildlife Collision Prevention Program.
What should I do if I see a turtle or other herptile (reptiles and amphibians) crossing the road?
If you see a turtle on the road pull over when it is safe to do so and help it cross the road. If you are aiding an adult turtle, help it cross the road in the direction it was going and watch it for a little while to ensure it keeps walking in that direction. If you find a hatchling on the road release it in the nearest body of water.
If you are afraid to handle a turtle or other herpitle, gently "shoo" it off the road with a car mat or other material!
To learn more about the research that is being conducting in Ontario to understand the impacts of road mortality on wildlife and how to mitigate it please read A Guide to Road Ecology in Ontario (2010)
Driving in the Land Between written by: Fallon Hayes, Communications and Education Specialist
- Elton, K., & Drescher, M. (2019). Implementing wildlife-management strategies into road infrastructure in southern Ontario: a critical success factors approach. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 62(5), 862-880.
- A Guide to Road Ecology in Ontario (2010)