Some stand 7 feet tall and weigh 900 pounds. Having one come through a car windshield can be fatal.

And May heralds the time when moose – as much an unofficial symbol of Maine as lobsters – are moving from deep woods to their summer feeding grounds. To get there, the gangly critters often cross the highways and byways.

On Thursday, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued a warning urging motorists to drive carefully to avoid colliding with Maine’s largest mammal.

“Motorists need to be aware of the threat that moose present on Maine’s roadways,” cautioned Roland “Danny” Martin, the department’s commissioner. “Their movements are unpredictable, and this is the time of year when moose are moving the most.”

Moose-vehicle collisions are no longer limited to northern or rural Maine. Those have happened just about everywhere in the state, including in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor, Maine’s three largest communities.

There are about 700 moose and vehicle run-ins in Maine annually. In about 150 of those, people are injured, and two to three of the crashes each year are fatal. Last year, four people died when their cars, trucks or motorcycles ran into moose.

The collisions also cause millions of dollars in property damage. State officials who track the crashes say most occur between 7 p.m. and midnight. Two problems make moose-vehicle crashes more likely. One is that moose hair tends to trap rather than reflect headlights. And because the animals’ heads are so high off the road, motorists often don’t notice the two glowing eyes until the they’re too close to avoid them.

“We have been working hard with other agencies and on educational programs to decrease the number of moose-vehicle collisions,” Martin said. “However, it is important for drivers to be aware and attentive, especially at night, which is when most crashes occur.”

To reduce moose-vehicle accidents, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife increased the number of moose hunting permits it issues in high-risk areas, such as northeastern Aroostook County, as well as opening more areas to hunting.

Hunting is the primary tool to control Maine’s moose population. The department also works with the Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Safety on reducing the number of collisions.

Driver’s education courses in the state now inform people on how to avoid collisions, and the interagency group also produced and distributed a safety video called “Hidden Hazards” to driver education instructors.

Officials also are evaluating collision-reduction methods on roads in Maine. And moose crossing signs are placed in the areas of highest risk.

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