Wednesday, September 2, 2009

$1m Deer Warning System Finished

(Story from June, 2009)
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is about to install a new warning system on a rural stretch of Highway 3 in Siskiyou County, in an effort to keep deer, mountain lions, bears and elk out of the path of oncoming traffic. This summer, highway crews will begin work installing a series of cameras, radar sensors and signs over a one-mile stretch of the highway near Fort Jones. If a deer or other large animal crosses the path of one of the interconnecting radar beams, an electronic signal triggers lights attached to deer-crossing signs.

“The lights flash to warn motorists of the danger possibly standing in their path,” says Ian Turnbull, chief of intelligent transportation systems and support at Caltrans' Redding office. Motorists strike at least 60 deer a year in that particular 8km (5 miles) stretch of highway. “This is a particularly bad deer-kill area,” Turnbull says. “It is one of the worst in the district. There's also a group of folks in the Fort Jones area who were concerned about it. They were actually talking about putting up their own warning signs.”

Turnbull says that vehicles will also be tracked by the sensors. Motion-activated radar and video will track the speed of oncoming cars to see if the flashing lights actually cause motorists to slow down. Caltrans has paid US$168,000 for the project's deer-tracking infrastructure. The car-tracking technology has been provided by the California PATH (Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways) program. Only four such systems have been installed in the USA, with several more planned. In 2006, the State Farm Insurance Company cited annual figures of 1.5 million animal-vehicle collisions, with over US$1 billion in damages. As many as 10,000 injuries and more than 200 fatalities are reported annually, according to the Insurance Information Institute for Highway Safety.
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