Vulnerable Road Users
Safety Rules for Driving When Animals Are on The Road

Collisions with Animals on the Road: Prevention Tactics, Reporting an Accident

Updated Nov. 20, 2020

Drivers must keep a lookout for wild, domestic or farm animals crossing the roadway, particularly in rural areas. When a yellow, diamond-shaped animal warning sign is present, remain alert and drive with caution. Should you encounter a herd of animals crossing the road, stop your vehicle and allow them to cross. Only when the animals have completely cleared the highway should you proceed.

Collisions with animals

All drivers must know how to avoid a collision with stray or wild animals on the road. The latest data available from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration surveys indicates that there were 268,000 vehicle-animal collisions in 2008. Many vehicle-animal collisions go unreported, so the true figure is likely to be much higher than this. Of those incidents recorded, 13,000 resulted in injuries and 204 in fatalities.

How to minimize the chances of hitting animals

Vehicle-animal collisions are not just a rural problem. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 89 percent of collisions involving animals between 2001 and 2005 occurred on two-lane roads. This could lead people to assume that wildlife-vehicle collisions are only an issue in rural areas. In fact, two-lane roads are extremely prevalent in semi-rural areas outside large cities.

Here is what you can do to avoid a collision when an animal:

  1. 1

    Take special care around deer warning signs.
    Deer have adapted well to living near humans, so you are just as likely to encounter them in heavily populated areas. If you see a deer warning sign, it is there for a reason.

  2. 2

    Keep your high-beams on whenever it is safe to do so.
    This will allow you to spot animals in the roadway at a greater distance.

  3. 3

    Reduce your speed at night.
    Poor visibility means you may not see an animal soon enough to stop.

  4. 4

    If you see one animal, expect to see others nearby.
    The Animal Protection Institute state that 70 percent of deer-car collisions happen when a driver has slowed down for one deer and then accelerated, failing to see another.

  5. 5

    Know when animals are likely to be active.
    Deer are generally on the move in fall and early spring, around dawn and dusk. In the summer they are more likely to be sighted during the day.

  6. 6

    Be aware that animals are often more active during fair weather periods before storms.

When an accident cannot be avoided

You must not jeopardize vehicle control when avoiding a collision with an animal. While it is important to avoid injuring an animal wherever possible, preserving human life should be your priority. When you encounter an animal on the roadway:

  • Do not slam on the brakes, as this could scare the animal into the path of another vehicle.
  • Try not to swerve around the animal. This may not avoid a collision, as the startled animal could dart in front of your vehicle. Worse still, you could lose control and hit another vehicle, a pedestrian or a tree.
  • Sound your horn while braking gradually. This should prompt the animal to move out of the way, or at the very least, minimize your speed upon impact.
  • Swerving may be the best option ONLY to avoid a collision with a particularly large animal, such as a moose. You are likely to be seriously or fatally injured in a collision with an animal of this size. However, you should not swerve if doing so could take you into the path of another vehicle.

How to report an accident

If you hit an animal, pull over when it is safe to do so and call the police. Some states require drivers to report vehicle-wildlife collisions to the local wildlife or conservationist authority – this will be detailed in your state’s driving handbook. The police will usually need to be notified if:

  • The collision caused significant damage to your vehicle, or injury to any person.
  • The animal you hit is domestic or owned by another person.
  • The animal is dead or injured in the roadway and is large enough to cause another accident.

Contact the police if you are not sure what action you should take, as they will be able to advise you. Do not approach an injured animal on the roadway – it may be dangerous.

Horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles

By law, any person riding or driving animals in the roadway has the same rights and responsibilities as a car driver. If you encounter a horseback rider or a horse-drawn vehicle, respect their rights and reduce your speed to 25mph. Keep in mind that a person riding a horse or driving a horse-drawn vehicle may raise their hand or otherwise signal that they wish a motorist traveling in the opposite direction to stop. Under such circumstances, you should bring your vehicle to a complete stop and remain stationary until the horse has safely passed you.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 9 votes.

Read next

Driving Safely Around Large Trucks
Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 1 of 4

Sharing the Road with Trucks

To share the road safely with large trucks, you must keep in mind that these vehicles are heavy, have a wider turning circle, longer stopping distances and bigger blind spots. Remember that large trucks are designed primarily to transport cargo. They are not as maneuverable as smaller passenger vehicles.

Driving Around School Buses: When to Stop
Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 2 of 4

Sharing the Road with Buses

The precise definition of a bus varies a little from state to state, though it is safe to assume that any vehicle used for passenger transportation which is designed to carry more than ten people qualifies. We will discuss the challenges you face when sharing the road with ordinary passenger buses and school buses.

Sharing the Road with Emergency Response Vehicles
Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 3 of 4

Sharing the Road with Emergency Vehicles

Motorists must exercise caution around emergency vehicle operators, as they are exempt from adhering to standard road rules when their sirens and lights are activated. This makes them incredibly unpredictable.

Vulnerable Road Users 1 of 7

Sharing the Road

You will share the road with many different types of road user – we are not just talking about other motorists. Vehicles and pedestrians are the two primary categories of road user which make up the Highway Transportation System (HTS). Bicycles, passenger cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, slow-moving vehicles and light rail vehicles are among the many types of vehicle included in the HTS.

Vulnerable Road Users 2 of 7

Pedestrian Traffic Rules

You must learn how to protect yourself from harm while walking on or near public roadways. Having the right-of-way at marked and unmarked pedestrian crossings does not mean you are safe. Irresponsible and distracted drivers may not always yield to pedestrians when they should. As a pedestrian, if you are involved in a collision with a car, right-of-way laws will not protect you from death or injury.

Vulnerable Road Users 3 of 7

Sharing the Road with Pedestrians

Keeping pedestrians safe is a shared responsibility. Drivers and pedestrians must all abide by certain rules to avoid pedestrian injury. As pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users, drivers will usually be held responsible when an auto-pedestrian accident occurs. Remember that in a car accident involving a pedestrian, the pedestrian always loses.

Vulnerable Road Users 4 of 7

Bicycle Safety Rules

As bicycles are legally defined as vehicles, bicyclists are subject to precisely the same rights and responsibility as car drivers. When riding a bicycle on roads you must obey all traffic laws, signs and signals, yield the right-of-way where appropriate and follow the same rules for indicating and making turns.

Vulnerable Road Users 5 of 7

Sharing the Road with Motorcycles

Motorcyclists using public roadways have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers. As a car driver, you must be on the lookout for motorcyclists. Despite being subject to the same traffic laws, motorcycle riders are at far greater risk of injury while using a roadway than a person operating a car.

Vulnerable Road Users 6 of 7

Motorcycle Safety Rules

Motorcyclists must practice defensive driving, ensure their motorcycle meets safety standards and wear appropriate riding clothes to minimize their risk of injury on the roads. Data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that motorcyclist deaths occurred 28 times more frequently than fatalities in other vehicles, in 2016.