One reason rural routes are still the nation’s deadliest roads is that deer populations have exploded. America has 100 times more white-tailed deer than it did a century ago, according to Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness.
That translates to 30 million unpredictable, jumpy animals for U.S. drivers to hit. To keep that from happening, state and local highway agencies have blanketed roadsides with warnings. But they’ve become so common, that after a while, people don’t notice them. “There are signs for everything and they’re everywhere,” says Button Township (Ill.) Highway Department Commissioner Ron Hilligoss. “I don’t even pay attention to them all.”
He expected his agency’s way of breaking through the clutter to get some media attention, but he didn’t expect it go viral.
A good sign
“My nephew texted me a picture of this sign out in Colorado about six months ago,” says Hilligoss. “I thought it was really a good thing because it gets your attention. So we had a Ford County Highway Department meeting and I said, ‘Can you get me these signs?’”
They could. He erected the first of four just south of the intersection of Ford County roads 2250 East and 200 North in Paxton, Ill., that had 33 deer-vehicle collisions in 2015. Hi-Viz Inc. in Elgin, Ill., manufactures the signs, which cost $42 each.
“I didn’t want anyone else to end up with a deer in their passenger seat,” he says.
Since the sign went up in December 2015, there have been no documented collisions. But as Hilligoss predicted, it was stolen two months later. He doesn’t think his agency will put up another one anytime soon, but for now he’s satisfied with the impact it’s had.
“Even though the sign is gone, people are starting to pay more attention,” he says. “My number-one priority is to keep the people in this county safe.”