Department partnering with WTI to investigate wildlife-detection system
to improve driver safety

The Idaho Transportation Department’s Research Program has initiated a project to evaluate the performance of an innovative wildlife-detection system that may bring improved safety to area highways by reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions, personal injury and property damage. The project is the result of District 1’s request, and is a partnership between ITD and the Western Transportation Institute (WTI) of Montana State University.

The system, which was developed by Boise’s Sloan Security Group, uses Doppler Radar for wildlife detection.  A radar sensor is mounted on a pole 20-25 feet above the ground, allowing the sensor to “look over” semi-trucks so it can detect large animals on both sides of the road and on the road itself for several hundred meters. The system is connected to flashing warning beacons that are activated to alert drivers of animals on or near the roadway.

Here are a couple of videos, from Sloan Security, showing thermal images of deer crossing the road near vehicles. The first video shows a close call as the animals cross near a car:

The second video shows the deer scared from near the roadway by a semi:

The project uses lightweight and durable commercial thermal imagery, similar to that employed in military applications in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WTI is evaluating the performance of the detection system in a wildlife-crossing “hot spot” on a stretch of U.S. 95 in Boundary County.  Between 2009 and 2013, 143 of the 383 total reported crashes on U.S. 95 in Boundary County were wildlife related.

Preliminary studies indicate that vehicle/animal collisions could be reduced by at least one third.

“Wildlife-vehicle collisions are a costly safety issue for Idaho travelers,” said ITD Research Program Manager Ned Parrish. “Injuries and the loss of life — human or wild animal — are broad social and environmental concerns.” 

Those collisions account for almost $8.4 billion nationwide each year, and nearly $20 million last year in Idaho. These costs include vehicle-repair costs, human injuries and fatalities, towing, accident attendance and investigation, monetary value to hunters of the animal killed in the collision, and the cost of disposal of the animal carcass.

The system will be evaluated based on its reliability in detecting large mammals (deer-sized and bigger).  Researchers will compare detection logs from the radar to images off a thermal camera that has also been installed at the study site. Researchers also will study whether flashing warning signs can reduce vehicle speed in the project area.

If the system proves successful, it could be implemented in a variety of locations around the state. Parrish noted that “the system has the potential to be moved from one location to another as wildlife movement patterns change.  This would give districts greater flexibility and be more cost-effective as compared to fencing and wildlife crossing structures".

D1 staff responsible for day-to-day management and support of the project are Michael Hartz, senior environmental planner, and George Shutes, Bonners Ferry maintenance foreman. Other staff serving on the project Technical Advisory Committee include:  Tim Cramer, senior environmental planner from District 6, Brad Wolfinger, analyst in the Environmental Section, and Parrish. Brent Inghram and Lance Johnson from FHWA’s Idaho Division Office are also involved in the project.

Published 02-12-16