The most dangerous animal in North America, according to Roger M. Knutson, is the whitetail deer. Why? Because it’s the most likely critter to be hit by your car on a lonely rural road. About 200 Americans each year are killed in collisions with deer and other large animals, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports.
Knutson, a retired professor of biology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, is the author of “Flattened Fauna, a Field Guide to Common Animals of Roads, Streets and Highways,” a 1987 book that has sold more than 150,000 copies in two editions. It’s a work more of humor than scientific taxonomy, but Knutson also understands the serious aspects of roadkill.
In Michigan, where he now lives, there are 60,000 auto-deer collisions annually, he noted. “The financial impact is pretty impressive,” he said.
This reporter couldn’t find similar statistics for Minnesota, but Knutson suggested that the toll is likely to be comparable here. Deer and other wildlife everywhere, especially nocturnal ones, have no evolutionary tools to respond appropriately to headlights speeding in their direction. So, a million times a day, according to the Humane Society of the United States, you got your dead skunk (or other animal) in the middle of the road. A 2008 Federal Highway Administration report estimated the number of collisions with large animals at 1 million to 2 million a year.
Roadkill has gotten some serious research lately, with organized observers plotting the carnage in California and Maine, according to a recent New York Times article. There’s even a push to develop a smartphone app that would allow citizen volunteers to document roadkill online via a global positioning system. In California, nearly 300 survey participants have logged 6,900 kills of raccoon, desert iguana, black bear and hundreds of other species.
Our 4 million miles of public roads and 258 million motor vehicles are a clear hazard to American wildlife, and sometimes to the American drivers that run into them. Roadside barriers and plantings can reduce the risk a bit, but, as with every aspect of traffic safety, the best protection for man and beast alike is a sober, safety-belted, attentive driver.