Deer are killed by motorists at an official rate of one every three days along the Highway 97 corridor between Osoyoos and Kelowna, prompting a delivery driver who’s flattened a few — and has the insurance bill to prove it — to call for better safety measures.
Ed Longeuay drives the route six nights a week, distributing newspapers to homes and businesses from West Kelowna to Osoyoos.
Between April 2014 and November 2015, his delivery vehicle collided with deer four times, resulting in an average repair bill of $4,100.
As a result, when his policy came up for renewal earlier this year, the Insurance Corporation of B.C. jacked up the deductible for his comprehensive coverage to $2,500 from $300. His 43 per cent discount for safe driving wasn’t affected.
“I haven’t had an accident. I haven’t had a speeding ticket. I haven’t had anything against my licence, except four reported deer,” said Longeuay.
He balked at the hike and retired his well-travelled Dodge Caravan from regular service, opting instead for a Jeep with a clean history — plus a massive front bumper and array of lights.
“Even with the new bumper and all the lights, I’ve still killed two deer this year, and I’m careful,” said Longeuay.
An average of 139 deer were killed along the corridor each year from 2005 to 2014, according to the most recent data available from the B.C. Transportation Ministry.
“I think that’s way out,” said Longeuay, who sees dead deer at the side of the road almost every night.
And he believes the problem is only getting worse due to wildfires that scorched the hillsides above communities such as Oliver and West Kelowna, driving hungry deer down to the valley bottom where they wander onto the highway and get clipped.
“You don’t have a chance. They jump out in front of you,” said Longeuay, adding drivers also suffer as a result.
“It’s not a nice thing to go through. I see these people that aren’t expecting a deer and they total their vehicle and they’re just distraught. They don’t know what to do,” he said.
In addition to the toll such crashes take on wildlife and humans, Longeuay wonders about the costs to ICBC, which simply passes them along to its customers.
For all those reasons, he’s calling on ICBC and the Transportation Ministry to invest in measures to help reduce the number of deer who meet their maker on Highway 97.
The ministry in April began testing a wildlife-detection system on two stretches of Highway 3 between Cranbrook and the B.C.-Alberta border that warns drivers about animals on the road.
Sensors detect large animals approaching the highway shoulder and activate flashing lights that alert drivers to the hazard, giving them time to reduce their speed to avoid a collision.
That part of Highway 3 was chosen for the pilot project because of high mortality rates for elk and deer on what is a popular route for mine workers and skiers. The systems cost $1.5 million and will be used to determine if the technology should be rolled out to other parts of B.C.
But it doesn’t look promising for the South Okanagan.
“According to our data, this (Osoyoos-Kelowna) corridor is currently not experiencing higher than average animal collisions,” ministry spokeswoman Sonia Lowe said in a statement.
Some steps have, however, been taken to address the problem.
Wildlife fencing put up on the west side of Highway 97 between Summerland and Peachland has “significantly” reduced the number of deer kills there, Lowe added, without providing statistics.
Fencing has also been installed on Highway 97 from Penticton south to the intersection with Highway 3A, and between Okanagan Falls and Vaseux Lake.
“It is important to note that wildlife fences are only effective in the right locations. In urban areas or areas with higher levels of rural development, these types of fences are ineffective due to the large number of accesses and driveways,” Lowe noted.
All that is to say safety will continue to be drivers’ responsibility in the South Okanagan.
“Any future wildlife mitigative strategies are based on data analysis of wildlife collisions,” said Lowe.
“No new wildlife mitigation strategies are currently being contemplated for this (Osoyoos-Kelowna) corridor. However, we’ll continue to monitor the data to see if further strategies are warranted.”