Deadly Stupidity: Government Roads in Deer Country

Recently by Rev. H. R. Curtis: A Veteran Worth Celebrating

Last week I drove my family from the St. Louis metro area to Indianapolis along Interstate 70 for a Thanksgiving gathering. Not far into Indiana I saw a sign of the stupidity of government roads – literally, it was a sign advertising the fact. On the large median (8.23 acres) dividing the east and west bound lanes of I-70 a sign notified me that a "hardwood forest" was planted there in 2002. Even zipping along at 70 mph I could tell that several of the trees were white and red oaks. I can identify those trees because, as an avid deer hunter, I am very interested in them. White oaks produce acorns with a low tannin content that make for a whitetail’s favorite food. Red oaks, while higher in tannin, produce acorns even in years when white oaks have lost theirs due to a late spring frost, thus providing a back up food source in bad years.

In other words, the government encouraged a food plot for deer to be planted between four lanes of vehicles moving at well over a mile a minute. As you can see from the satellite image, the planting created an irresistible magnet for deer. On either side of the highway are agricultural fields that rotate between corn and soybeans year to year, a small creek, and wooded areas father back. Before the planting, deer would have been much less likely to cross the road as they could feed in the fields and then retreat to cover on the same side of the highway. In a few years when the trees mature and begin bearing mast, the deer will be tempted to go straight ahead to cover and food across the road.

According to State Farm Insurance Company there were over 35,000 vehicle-deer collisions in Indiana in a 12 month period ending in June 2009 (predictably enough, the Indiana State Police estimate that there were "only" 16,225). All across the country these collisions lead to serious injuries, death, and untold property damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion. If you refer to the chart linked to above from State Farm, you can see that where I reside (Illinois), one out of every 228 vehicles will collide with a deer this year. If you live in West Virginia, one out of every 39 vehicles will suffer a similar fate on the government’s roads.

Would any businessman trying to maintain a profit on a privately owned road choose to decrease the safety of his customers by inviting deer to cross in front of fast moving vehicles? Furthermore, who in his right mind would plant famously stout oak trees were a car was likely to run into one if the driver should lose control?

Crony capitalists in league with government functionaries, of course. The trees I saw on I-70 were planted with grant monies from the Hardwood Forestry Fund, a group that funds "tree planting and forest management programs on public land to create healthy, abundant new hardwood forests." In other words, the timber industry gives money for trees to be planted on government owned land that they can later harvest for a profit – with the government getting their cut, of course. What a novel subsidy! So green! So renewable!

So deadly. This ill-placed hardwood forest must certainly rise to the level of willful negligence. One would think that an enterprising personal injury lawyer could make a small fortune the next time somebody dies or is seriously injured by striking a deer between mile markers 43.6 and 45 on I-70. Adequate safety rails, sand pits along the lines of runaway ramps in the Rockies, or even nothing at all are just the beginning of the list of things that a private road proprietor would have an incentive to place between lanes of traffic in deer country. Choosing instead to actively create a new danger (colliding with stout oaks) and increasing an existing danger (deer collision) is something that only the infallibly unresponsive State could come up with.

Until the roads in America are privatized there will be no incentive for safety to improve. Monopolies are insulated from the needs and desires of their prisoner-customers. A death or injury on the roads costs the government bureaucrats in charge of the roads next to nothing – while timber contracts and political points scored with environmentalist lobbies can be quite lucrative. Contrariwise, in a free-roads system, the proprietor of the road has a market incentive to increase his customers’ safety.

If the appalling rate of death and injury on America’s roads is to improve, free enterprise and market forces must be brought to bear. In other words, the roads much be privatized. Until then, watch out for deer on I-70.

December 2, 2010