OTI: Improvements in car safety behind sharp decline in deaths from elk, deer collisions

More than a dozen people were killed every year in Finland during the 1990s by accidents involving elk, but this figure has now dropped to between one and four per year.

The number of people who have died in road accidents involving elk has declined steadily since the 1990s. Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

Authorities in Finland registered a total of 1,527 road traffic accidents involving elk last year.

Three people lost their lives in the accidents, one car driver and two motorcyclists.

During the 1990s, more than a dozen people died on Finnish roads in elk or deer crashes each year but in that number has dropped recently to between one and four.

The decrease in deaths is partly due to the decline in Finland's deer population as well as the widespread construction of game fences and the clearing of roadsides.

However, according to the Finnish Crash Data Institute (OTI), the most significant factor in the decline is the improvement in car safety.

"An elk is now more likely to remain outside of the car in a crash situation. In the past, the roof of the car would fold in like a can of sardines," OTI's traffic safety manager Esa Räty told Yle.

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File photo of an elk by the side of a road near the city of Lappeenranta, May 2017. Image: Tommi Parkkinen / Yle

Cars are structurally more robust than they were 20 years ago, and safety technology and design have also evolved.

"In addition to the fact that the cars are bigger and more robust, their safety features are better. Windshields are also more durable. The car has airbags, which has not necessarily been the norm before," according to Taina Levänen, a sales representative at the AutoSun car dealership in Kouvola.

However, not all safety equipment is standard and different car manufacturers have their own features.

"For example, some car manufacturers have active bonnets that rise up to protect the windscreen glass in the event of a collision," Levänen explained.

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Larger and more robust cars offer better protection to drivers and passengers in the event of a crash. Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

OTI's Räty added that improvements in emergency care has also had an effect on the number of people killed in elk crashes.

Deer, reindeer crashes peak in November

The majority of road crashes involving elk are in the months of July and August, with two out of every three accidents occurring at dusk or during the night. Lights are a big factor in preventing accidents.

"Cars now have a variety of smart headlight options. When driving in the dark, they illuminate the forest side but do not dazzle cars coming from the other direction," Levänen said.

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The Finnish Road Safety Council urges motorists to take heed of road signs. Image: Pyry Sarkiola / Yle

The number of car accidents involving reindeer and roe deer peaks during the month of November, and accidents involving game also occur a lot during the autumn. In November last year, there were a total of about 2,400 accidents involving deer, the majority of which were collisions with roe and reindeer.

These accidents are mostly concentrated in the regions of Southwest Finland and Uusimaa.

"The reindeer population has exploded, and there would be a justification to reduce its number, although deer collisions rarely lead to personal injuries," said Juha Valtonen, a Research Manager at the Finnish Road Safety Council.

The council encourages drivers to be vigilant and reduce speeds in areas where roe deer and reindeer are on the move.