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A deer sign mounted with a light.

Advanced warning: U researchers study new deer avoidance technology

U researchers study deer avoidance technology

By Pauline Oo

From M, winter 2005

What do you do when you spot a deer-crossing warning sign? If you don't slow down, you likely barrel past it, thinking, "I see these signs all the time; I've never hit a deer."

Maybe you haven't, but plenty of other people have. Minnesota has about 1.4 million deer, according to the state Department of Natural Resources, and each year 5,500 deer-vehicle collisions are reported--and an estimated twice as many go unreported.

Last year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation sought University expertise in evaluating the effectiveness of a new technology: a standard deer warning sign mounted with a light that would flash when deer were present in the area.

Michael Wade, a University of Minnesota kinesiology professor and researcher in the Human Factors Research Lab, and his graduate students used volunteer drivers in a simulator and showed them standard warning signs, the new flashing signs, and deer by the side of the road. In general, drivers were more likely to decrease their driving speeds when observing the new flashing sign. They didn't appear to slow down when they spotted deer in the simulated display.

"There is no doubt that the novelty value of the warning light on a deer sign captures the driver's attention and people do slow down," says Wade. "But, whether you'll see the technology employed over large areas statewide or nationally is another question. The challenge is getting people to slow down even after they see the same sign on the same piece of road over and over again."

For more information on the Human Factors Research Laboratory, see HFRL.

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