What to Do If You Hit an Animal While Driving

INNOVA - What to do if you hit an animal while driving

We offer several tips on what to do if it happens, and how to avoid it.

Are you asking, why would a leading diagnostic tool company publish something so heartbreaking as hitting an animal with a car? As traumatizing as this is, the truth is that it happens more often than we would like to acknowledge. With the vast number of roads in America crossing rural areas–where wild animals migrate–and even wandering pets within our own neighborhood, it is quite likely that you’ve already faced such an experience.

An independent study found that 80% of the 1,000 people it surveyed had a “near miss” encounter with an animal. Another 2008 study conducted by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration estimates there are 1 to 2 million collisions between vehicles and large wild animals every year–the majority being deer. It even discovered that the killing of an animal could pose a threat to the survival of certain species. It is clear that these instances pose a threat not only to the animals, but to people and property. The government is already exploring ideas on how to mitigate the situation, but what can you do as a driver?

By reading this article you will get to know what to do if you accidentally hit an animal, but most importantly, you will learn how to be prepared to avoid such a tragic accident. Most of it is common sense, but some points will require a bit of reflection.

Pull Over

The unthinkable has happened...the first thing to do is to take a deep breath and to remain calm. As soon as it is safe and feasible, pull over to the side of the road. If it is dark, turn on your hazard lights on or put up some flares (if you have them) to make yourself visible to other passing drivers. And if it is dark and the animal is lying on the road, see if you can point your headlights towards the animal so other drivers can see it.

Assess that you and your passengers are not injured, if they are, perform first aid and call emergency services. As most of these accidents tend to cause rattled nerves, it is important to stay focused on your surroundings, particularly of oncoming traffic. Remaining calm is the most important point here to avoid any costly mistakes.

Inspect the Animal

After taking a moment to gather yourself, exit the vehicle while looking for oncoming traffic. Approach the animal with extreme caution–an injured animal will be frightened and may attack you in defense. The only time that you should never exit the vehicle is if you hit a predatory animal like a mountain lion or bear. It is best to contact the local authorities or a local animal-control agency for advice on what to do – particularly if you struck a large wild animal.

If the animal is a cat, dog, or other domesticated animal, again approach carefully and check for a tag so you can contact the owner. If you are in a metropolitan area, you can also contact a local veterinarian to see if you can bring them in for medical care, or euthanasia to cease their suffering. If they agree, use a blanket of jacket to gently pick up the animal to transport it. Try to cover the animal completely to avoid further injury and prevent the animal from lashing out to bite.

Something else to consider is if the animal is in the middle of the road and is posing a danger to other drivers. Only move the animal if it does not put you or the animal in danger. However, if the animal is a deer or moose and it is still alive, you should never approach it–contact the local authorities and let them handle it. If the animal is dead, and only if it is safe, move it to the side of the road and contact animal control or the police to let them know of the situation. Alternatively, you can simply wait for authorities to arrive to remove the animal.

Report the Collision

The majority of U.S. states require that you report an animal collision to the local police department. Although this step may seem intimidating or unnecessary, missing this step can result with fines or an arrest. If it is a domesticated animal, you will also want to contact the owner to let them know what happened. Failure to notify the owner may be considered as negligence and animal cruelty, which carries a criminal penalty. Your local veterinarian or animal control center can help identify the owner if the animal was microchipped.

If you struck a large wild animal like a deer, call 911 emergency services if you or your passengers were injured. Then call the police or park ranger to report the incident. Again, failure to do so could result in criminal charges. You will also want to contact your vehicle’s insurance company to file and report the accident. Make sure to take lots of pictures to document the accident and take a few notes to account the location, date, road conditions, or any other factors that will tell an accurate story.

Inspect Your Vehicle

INNOVA - Striking an animal hazards

Striking a large animal will typically result in vehicle damage. Once everything is safe, go around your vehicle and inspect the vehicle. Take lots of clear pictures of any visible damage that you see – bumper, body dents & scratches, broken windows, broken lights, etc. There may also be internal damage you may not visibly see. It is important to keep tools, like scan tools, in your vehicle to inspect for any codes or other system failures that might have occurred during the accident. These tools can quickly help pinpoint any conditions that may be considered severe enough to not continue driving, offer repair suggestions on how to fix it, and even offer some guidance on what to do to make repairs.

Once you have a good assessment and record of the accident, contact your insurance company to provide them all this information to start a claim.

How to Avoid Collisions With Animals On the Road

As upsetting as hitting an animal is, there are a few things you can do to prevent these incidents from occurring.

  • INNOVA - Avoid collisions with animals

    Be Alert During Dusk & Dawn Hours – Wild animals, particularly deer, migrate during the early evening and early morning hours, so it is important to be very alert during these peak hours.

  • Follow the Rules of the Road – Avoid any distractions while driving, particularly in dark, rural, and curvy roads. Always watch for speed limits and look for signage alerting of potential animal crossings. Keep adjusting your driving to compensate for any unforeseen dangers.

  • Be More Cautious On Rural Roads – Roads that have trees on both side of the lanes are more likely to have blind spots for animals who may suddenly cross and not be seen by passing drivers.

  • Use Your Brights – during nighttime driving, use your brights whenever there is no oncoming traffic. The greater visibility you have, the greater chance you will have to react to an animal crossing the road.

  • Utilize Your Passengers for More Eyes – The more eyes that are on the road, the better chance you will have to avert an accident. Have your passengers help you look for any signs of animals – even get your kids involved to look for animals as a game.

  • If You Must Hit...Don’t Swerve – Even though our first instinct may be to swerve, it could result in a more severe crash by either losing control of the vehicle, or hitting another passing or parked vehicle. If you see an animal, honk your horn and break by keeping the vehicle straight. Just before the moment of impact, try to steer the vehicle to where the animal is coming from – and even accelerate a bit to push the animal away from the vehicle during impact.

We hope you never have to face hitting an animal on the road, but we’re optimistic that we’ve given you some tools to help keep you and the animals we endear safe and sound. Safe travels!