How to steer clear of animals on the road
Last updated: January 1
It’s a scary feeling — that moment you’re driving along and an animal darts into the road. You’re left with a split second to react and hopefully avoid an accident. With a little knowledge, you may be able to keep the animal, yourself and your car safe. These tips can help you learn how to steer clear of animals on the road.
1. Know the environment
Being aware of the environment you're driving through can help you know what kind of animals you may encounter. In urban and suburban areas you're more likely to encounter smaller animals, such as squirrels, rabbits, opossums or raccoons, says the Washington State Department of Transportation. In wooded or rural areas, however, you'll also need to keep an eye out for deer, horses or cows that stray onto the road. In some areas you may need to look for larger animals, like moose, bears and elk.
Animals tend to be most active at dawn, dusk and for a few hours after sunset, so the Humane Society of the United States (Humane Society) recommends watching for wildlife during these times. Also, use extra caution when driving on roads that run through wooded areas and between fields.
2. Be alert
It's important to stay alert — keeping your focus not just on the road ahead but on the sides of the road, too, says the Humane Society. There may be animals nearby that are about to cross the road. Also, keep in mind that if you see one animal, there are likely more nearby, says the Humane Society.
Always follow the posted speed limit, and consider reducing your speed at night, notes the the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT). Slow down and pay extra attention in areas where warning signs, such as deer or moose crossing signs, are posted. These signs indicate an area where there's a large population of animals and collisions are more frequent, according to MaineDOT.
3. Improve visibility
To help you see better, the Humane Society suggests using your high beams whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so. Also consider dimming your dashboard lights a bit, as this may make it easier for you to see your headlights reflecting off of a nearby animal's eyes — hopefully giving you a little more time to slow down or stop.
MaineDOT also recommends that you drive slow enough that you could stop within the distance your headlights are shining. This may reduce the chance of you not being able to stop in time for an animal (or any other object) that is just beyond the area your headlights are illuminating.
4. Don't swerve
If you encounter an animal on the road, do not swerve to try to miss it. Consumer Reports says that turning quickly and sharply increases your risk of losing control of your vehicle or hitting another car. Swerving may also confuse the animal and cause it to move unpredictably. It is better to hit the brakes — slowing down as quickly and safely as possible, says Consumer Reports. Keep in mind that an accident with another vehicle is likely more dangerous than colliding with wildlife.
The bottom line is that you need to stay alert for wildlife while driving. Just like many other potential hazards, an animal in the road can be unexpected and unpredictable. With a little knowledge of your surroundings and some defensive driving skills, however, you may be able to avoid an unfortunate animal encounter.