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Too-Close Encounter with Moose

A less-involved way of giving a visual warning is to employ optical markers — reflectors inset along the road’s edge or along tightly spaced posts at the road’s edge. A nighttime driver would see an unbroken line of light reflecting back from the headlights — unless a moose were lumbering onto the roadway, in which case the pattern would be disrupted. Another variation is to paint an exceedingly wide and highly reflective stripe along the edge of the road, which would also provide a visual cue as the animal entered the road.

Gerry Audibert of the Maine Department of Transportation says that one of the more promising advances is the personal night-vision technology already offered by some car companies, most notably Cadillac. An infrared sensor scans the road far ahead, projecting a ghostly image of impending hazards on the inside of the windshield, allowing the driver to “see” a moose well before a possible collision.

The downside: Maine’s frequently hilly and curvy roads would limit the effectiveness. And the cost (about $1,500) rules it out for all but the most affluent. Only one Cadillac with an infrared system was sold last year in northern Maine, and the dealer said it sat for a long while.

Then there’s driver education. Maine has widely distributed a poster showing where moose collisions have occurred. It’s a sobering collection of colorful dots — blue for spots with four collisions, yellow for five, etc. — graphically suggesting that you’re scarcely safe anywhere in the state.

New Hampshire launched a popular “Brake for Moose” campaign, with roadside signs and bumper stickers urging caution. The stickers have become hot commodities among tourists and have even been spotted on American armored tanks in the Middle East. Although the New Hampshire warning may seem curiously self-evident, it is part of a broader package to increase driver awareness that moose are out there, and moose can kill.

New Hampshire recorded its most recent moose collision fatality on May 29. Derek Witherell, a popular 17-year-old high school junior from Antrim, struck a moose, lost control of his car, and crashed upside-down into a swamp. Passersby, including fellow high school students, pulled Witherell and his passenger out of the car and tried to revive Witherell at the scene. He died the following day. Watching for moose suddenly took on a tragic air in the Monadnock region.

For its part, Vermont has been posting 40 mph speed limit signs near the most troublesome moose crossings. “If you get someone to drop down to about 40 mph, it feels very safe,” says Cedric Alexander. “You can stop if a moose jumps out in front of you, or if you do hit, the damage isn’t as bad.”

My Allagash moose and I collided at an oblique angle — in truth, the moose hit me, plowing into the driver-side front panel, then careening across the hood before slamming into the windshield. The driver-side corner post took the brunt of the impact, bending slightly downward, but held long enough to keep the moose out of my lap.

With the brake pressed to the floor, I skidded a few dozen feet; the moose shattered the windshield and stove in the hood impressively, but the safety glass held except for a few confetti-like shards. As I slid to a halt, the moose rolled off the hood, then trotted into the spruce and fir, not visibly unnerved by our encounter.

The same couldn’t be said for me. I sat in the truck in the middle of the road for several long moments before I gathered my wits enough to pull off, then get out and assess the damage. The truck took a $2,500 hit, I’d learn later. But I was lucky — my sole injury consisted of a small cut on my left ear, the result of the moose-shattered sideview mirror sailing in the open window.

Two thoughts came to mind as I leaned against the truck that sunny summer afternoon. The first was, “Well, that was close.” The second was that the moose just might have been nature’s way of telling me to slow down and enjoy the passing view.
And I’ve been doing that ever since.

Excerpt from “Deadly Encounters,” Yankee Magazine, September 2004.

Updated Friday, April 18th, 2008

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