animal in road

Wildlife Vehicle Collisions Rise in the Fall



As you get ready for fall driving hazards like fallen leaves, icy roads, and sun glare, make sure you also stay alert for deer and other animals on the road. Collisions between vehicles and large mammals like deer are more common in October and November than at any other time of year, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Wildlife vehicle collisions are severely under-reported, but the FHWA estimates that the total is between one and two million per year, and is increasing by about 6,800 crashes annually.

Here are some tips to help you anticipate animals on the road and reduce your risk of a costly crash.

Know When and Where to Watch Out

According to the New York Times, white-tail deer are the large mammal most often struck by vehicles. Nearly half of all crashes involving this species occur from October to December. Seasonal migrations, mating periods, and hunting seasons all cause more wildlife movement during this time.

Animal-vehicle crashes occur most often in the morning, from 5 AM to 8 AM, and in the evening, from 4 PM to midnight. Animals are particularly active near dawn and dusk, which often coincides with peak commute traffic hours.

Most wildlife vehicle collisions happen on low-volume, high-speed rural roads, which are also likely to be areas with high animal populations. Be particularly cautious in forested areas, where trees and foliage near the roadway could hide an approaching animal. Remember that where you see one animal, there are probably others nearby.

Modify Your Driving

Where animals are likely to be present, remember to reduce your speed to give yourself the best chance of stopping in time to avoid a crash.

Don’t count on deer whistles to deter deer. Although they’ve been in use for decades, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that they have no effect on deer behavior. Instead, it’s best to slow down and scan the area ahead of you continuously for wildlife.

Wear Seatbelts and Helmets

An estimated 179 wildlife vehicle collisions per year are fatal. While this only represents 0.5% of all fatal crashes, the IIHS reports that many of these fatalities were preventable:

  • 60% of people killed in animal-car collisions were not using safety belts
  • 65% of motorcyclists killed in collisions with animals were not wearing helmets

Don’t Swerve to Avoid an Animal

Most deaths in animal-vehicle collisions were not caused by impact with the animal, but by events that occurred after striking the animal.

80% of fatal animal-vehicle crashes involved only one passenger vehicle or motorcycle:

  • In 38% of these, a motorcyclist fell off the motorcycle after striking an animal.
  • In 36% of these, a passenger vehicle ran off the road and overturned or struck a fixed object after striking an animal.
  • In only 5% of these, the animal went through the windshield of the striking vehicle.

20% involved multiple vehicles:

  • In half of these, the animal became airborne when struck by one vehicle, and went through the windshield of a second vehicle.
  • In the other half of these, one vehicle struck an animal and then collided with other vehicles, or other vehicles also struck the animal and then went off the road.

If an animal darts out in front of you and a crash is unavoidable, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety advises applying your brakes firmly and remaining in your lane. Swerving can cause a more serious crash involving hitting other vehicles or fixed objects, running off the roadway, or overturning your vehicle.

What to Do If You Hit an Animal

If you or others are injured, call emergency services for assistance immediately.

Turn on your car’s hazard lights or use emergency road flares to warn oncoming traffic of the animal in the road.

If the animal has been hurt or killed, call the non-emergency number of your local police department. Give the location and condition of the animal, and be sure to state if the animal poses a traffic hazard that could cause additional collisions. The Humane Society advises that quick removal will also prevent scavengers from being attracted to the road.

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