Animals and the road: Stop, swerve, or keep going?

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As America’s roadways expand, humans continue to cross paths with the natural landscape and its animal inhabitants. The overlap between humanity and the wild is inevitable, especially as construction grows and animal populations fall victim to modern expansion.

As a driver, wildlife can be an enormous and even fatal threat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an average of 1-2 million collisions with large animals occur each year. Animal collisions with speeds in excess of 55mph are particularly problematic, the USDA indicates. As the number of animal-vehicle collisions (AVCs) is substantial each year, it’s critical that you know how to drive safely and what to do should you be involved in an accident.

Be aware

Remote roadways and nighttime drivers are especially susceptible to wildlife, but the truth is that collisions with animals can and do happen anywhere.

While over 95% of AVCs result in no human injury, these accidents are having an enormous impact on animal populations — not just the large ones. The Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study declares 21 animal species as federally threatened or endangered in the United States by road mortality and other major threats to survival. Some of these species include the Hawaiian goose, desert tortoise, San Joaquin kit fox, and California tiger salamander. Especially precarious is the Florida panther, which is also endangered and particularly susceptible to AVCs.

Threatened and endangered species

Type of species Animals at risk
Mammals Lower Keys marsh rabbit, Key deer, bighorn sheep (peninsular California), San Joaquin kit fox, Canada lynx, ocelot, Florida panther, red wolf
Reptiles American crocodile, desert tortoise, gopher tortoise, Alabama red-bellied turtle, bog turtle, copperbelly water snake, eastern indigo snake
Amphibians California tiger salamander, flatwoods salamander, Houston toad
Birds Audubon’s crested caracara, Hawaiian goose, Florida scrub jay

Areas most at risk

Although animal-vehicle collisions can happen anywhere, the Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction study indicates some areas present higher risk than others.

  • In Michigan, motor vehicle collisions with deer happen about every eight minutes.
  • In New York, over 75,000 deer are killed each year in vehicle crashes.
  • As many as 25% of AVCs in Colorado involve wildlife.
  • The odds of an AVC involving deer in West Virginia are one in 38.

These states have a much higher risk for AVCs compared to others:

States at highest risk of deer collisions in 2020

Rank State Odds
1. West Virginia 1 in 37
2. Montana 1 in 47
3. Pennsylvania 1 in 51
4. South Dakota 1 in 53
5. Michigan 1 in 54

Highways vs. backroads

Highways and main roads experience collisions with animals less frequently due to the high volume of traffic throughout both the day and night. Back roads experience less traffic with significantly fewer travelers at night. With all quiet, animals can feel safe to step out from the cover of the trees and soon find themselves in the path of an oncoming vehicle. The bright lights from a vehicle can be blinding enough to disorient the animal, and trying to swerve or avoid it can put you — the driver — in peril. The study found that in nearly half of all motor vehicle accidents involving wildlife, the driver swerved in an attempt to avoid the animal.

It’s also noteworthy that 89% of all wildlife-vehicle collisions between 2001 and 2005 took place on two-lane roads. The most vehicle crashes involving wildlife happened under ideal road conditions on straight roads with dry surfaces. The highest likelihood for an AVC is in the spring and fall when animals are more active with migration, mating, or hunting. Car accidents involving deer are especially common between October and December.

Animals on the road

With some AVCs resulting in fatal injuries, there are some things to know in the event you encounter an animal during your travels.

Wildlife

Size matters

In some states, nearly 90% of WVCs involve deer, especially white-tailed deer. However, there are many kinds of animals that are commonly involved in car accidents. Moose are one common species in some states, resultting in far greater damage to the driver than accidents with other types of animals due to size.

The size of the animal very much is a factor not just in the number of accidents but also in how drivers react. Maneuvering around a small animal is significantly easier than trying to swerve around enormous animals like moose.

Injured animals

Injured animals are frightened and in pain, so they may become aggressive. To be safe, keep a safe distance and wait for trained professionals to arrive on the scene to help.

Steps to take

If you encounter wildlife on the road, there are a few things you should do to ensure both your safety and that of the animal:

  • Slow down – Reduce your speed to allow more time for you and the animal to react.
  • Make the animal aware – Remember the phrase “deer in headlights” and use a flash of your headlights to startle the deer out of shock.
  • Use your horn – A honk of the horn can be an effective way to motivate an animal that needs to move out of the way.
  • Do not swerve – When you break your path, you significantly increase the chances of a collision and could carry the blame if there is an accident. Instead, stay the course and allow the animal a chance to move out of the way.

Pets on the road

Pets also account for a growing number of animal-vehicle collisions. All too easily, pets can slip out and escape from an open door or window, or they can sneak out of the car when you aren’t paying attention. The American Humane Society reports that about 10 million pets are lost each year in the United States.

Many pets can fall victim to the hazards of the road, even endangering their owners, who may try to dart into the road to try to catch a wandering pet. This can cause great danger to yourself and your pet, and it can also cause accidents with the traffic around you.

What to do if you see a lost pet

Regardless of whether or not you are able to safely secure the animal, you should contact the local authorities for help. They can dispatch someone to retrieve the pet until the owner is found. Be sure to note your address or local coordinates of where the animal was last seen. Never enter a busy roadway to pursue a pet.

Rescuing animals

If you see a lost pet on the road, find somewhere safe to pull over. Errant pets can easily cause accidents and endanger other cars on the road around you. Speaking softly and gently can help calm a frightened pet that is lost.

There are some items that can help you secure a lost or escaped pet near roads:

  • Carrier – A spare cat or dog carrier can help you safety and comfortably secure a lost pet you encounter on the road.
  • Slip leashes – Slip leashes are a quick and simple means to effectively secure an escaped pet and ensure that the animal isn’t able to slip away and into danger.
  • Reflective vest – A reflective vest will help ensure visibility, especially if you have to venture into the roadways during hazardous road conditions, like rain or fog.
  • Treats – A few treats can help entice frightened pets and establish trust.
  • Blanket – A blanket can warm a trembling, scared pet and protect your car from fur or debris.

Collisions with animals

No matter how much care you exercise on the road, sometimes collisions with an accident can happen. If it happens to you, here are a few steps you should take.

What to do:

  1. Pull over. If possible, find somewhere outside of the path of traffic where you can safely exit your vehicle. Turn on your hazard lights so you can be seen.
  2. Check for damages. Confirm the safety of your passengers to ensure no one requires medical attention. Assess the state of your vehicle to determine whether it is safe to drive.
  3. Call the police. The police may need to file a report if there are damages to your vehicle so you can file an insurance claim with your provider. They can also assist an injured animal, direct traffic and clean up any debris from the collision.
  4. Contact a wildlife resource. Depending on your state, check for local organizations that you can contact for help with an injured animal.
  5. Document the incident. Use your camera phone to take photos of the damages and the scene so you can provide them to your insurance company.
  6. Contact your insurance provider.

The collision or comprehensive part of your car insurance policy may help cover damages you sustain from the accident. Contact your car insurance company to find out further details regarding your coverage and learn next steps to file a claim. Roadside assistance can be especially helpful.

Who’s at fault?

Although some federal crash databases report only 300,000 collisions per year, researchers actually believe that the number is much more because of the number of incidents that go unreported each year. If an accident causes less than $1,000 in property damage, it may not be included in official reporting. Still, studies estimate that AVCs cause more than $1 billion in property damage each year.

If you are involved in an incident, auto insurance coverage may vary. Collision coverage typically protects from other vehicles, not necessarily animals. If your collision coverage does not protect you from animals, you may need to purchase additional comprehensive insurance for your policy.

Safety tips

To help you avoid animal-vehicle collisions on the road, these tips can help.

  1. Stay aware. It’s especially important to remain extra-alert at dawn, dusk and after sunset when deer are most active and therefore more likely to wander onto the road.
  2. Slow down. Speed can not only greatly increase the likelihood of an accident but also the severity of one. By slowing down, you give yourself more time to react in case an animal moves into your path.
  3. Follow posted signs. Animal crossings are established by authorities to warn travelers of high-traffic areas for wildlife. Pay particular attention to the roads when these signs are present.
  4. Drive slowly. Lower speeds can give you precious seconds you need to react, so drive slowly and always remain aware of your surroundings at all times.
    1. In the meantime, federal, state, and local authorities are working to minimize the number of AVCs that occur on America’s roads each year. The report to Congress details 34 different mitigation techniques, including the following:

  • Integrated planning efforts
  • Wildlife fencing
  • Wildlife crossing structures
  • Animal detection systems
  • Public information and education

In Canada, for example, Alberta’s Banff National Park has shown incredible progress through the construction of 22 wildlife underpasses and two overpasses, all of which have decreased roadkill by an astounding 80%. Meanwhile, Montana has already begun construction on 43 different animal crossings on Highway 93 designed to help reduce AVCs involving bears, moose, elk and other wildlife.

Resources

If you see dead animals on the side of the road, contact your local health or sanitation department for cleanup. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-404-3922.

Contact information varies between every city, town, and municipality, so our state resource guide can help you find the right organization to help.

State resource guide

State Fish and Wildlife (FWS) Field Office Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Rehabbers Other Resources
Alabama Southeast Region (Region 4) Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Southeastern Outdoors

Outdoor Alabama

Alabama Wildlife Center

Southeastern Raptor Center

Alaska Alaska Region (Region 7) Alaska Department of Natural Resources U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitators

Southeastern Outdoors

Alaska Raptor Center

Juneau Raptor Center

Arizona Southwest Region (Region 2) Arizona Game and Fish U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Wild At Heart

Raptor Ranch, Flagstaff, AZ

Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center

Arkansas Southeast Region (Region 4) Arkansas Game and Fish Commission U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas

Morning Star Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

California Pacific Southwest (Region 8) California Department of Fish and Wildlife Wildlife Rehabilitation Facilities

U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitators

Southeastern Outdoors

California Raptor Center
Colorado Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) In-State FWS Office 2015 Colorado Public Wildlife Rehabilitators

U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Rocky Mountain Raptor Program

Birds of Prey Foundation

Connecticut Northeast Region (Region 5) Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Connecticut Wildlife Rehabilitators Association

Persons Authorized to Handle and Care for Hawks and Owls

U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Horizon Wings
Delaware Northeast Region (Region 5) Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators and Educators

Tri-State Bird Rescue

U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Rehabilitators

Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research
Florida Southeast Region (Region 4) Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

The Avian Reconditioning Center

C.R.O.W.

Peace River Wildlife Center

Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Mary Keller Seabird Rehabilitation Sanctuary

Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida

Georgia Southwest Region (Region 4) Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Rehabilitation Listings

U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Center for Wildlife Education and the Lamar Q Ball, Jr. Raptor Center
Hawaii Pacific Region (Region 1) Department of Land and Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Hawai’i Wildlife Center
Idaho Pacific Region (Region 1) Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey

Raptor Research Center, Boise State University

Illinois Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Illinois DNR U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Raptor Rehabilitation Center

Illinois Raptor Center

SOAR Illinois

Indiana Great Lakes -Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Indiana Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Indiana DNR Permitted Wild Animal Rehabilitators

Southeastern Outdoors

Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehabilitation Center
Iowa Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Iowa Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

SOAR (Saving Our Avian Resources) Website
Kansas Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) Kansas Wildlife, Parks & Tourism U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Eagle Valley Raptor Center
Kentucky Southeast Region (Region 4) Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources RROKI (Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc.)

Southeastern Outdoors

U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Western Kentucky Raptor Center

Liberty Nature Center

Louisiana Southeast Region (Region 4) Department of Wildlife and Fisheries U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Wildlife Rehabilitators – Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries

Southeastern Outdoors

Heckhaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Louisiana State University

Maine Northeast Region (Region 5) Inland Fisheries & Wildlife U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator

Southeastern Outdoors

Center for Wildlife

Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

Acadia Wildlife

Maryland Northeast Region (Region 5) Maryland Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Owl Moon Raptor Center
Massachusetts Northeast Region (Region 5) Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Wingmasters

Massachusetts Raptor Center

The Massachusetts Birds of Prey Rehab Facility

New England Wildlife Center

Michigan Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Michigan Department of Natural Resource U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators (DNR)

Southeastern Outdoors

Braveheart Raptor Rehabilitation Center

Wings of Wonder – Raptor Education, Rehabilitation, & Research

Minnesota Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Minnesota Department of Natural Resource U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

The Raptor Center St. Paul, MN / College of Veterinary Medicine / University of Minnesota
Mississippi Southeast Region (Region 4) Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Wildlife Care and Rescue Center Website

Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc.

Missouri Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Missouri Department of Conservation U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

World Bird Sanctuary

Raptor Rehabilitation Project Columbia, MO / University of Missouri / College of Veterinary Medicine

Montana Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Montana Raptor
Nebraska Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) Nebraska Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Fontenelle Forest
Nevada Pacific Southwest Region (Region 8) Nevada Department of Wildlife U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Raptor Adventures
New Hampshire Northeast Region (Region 5) New Hampshire Fish and Game U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

New Hampshire School of Falconry
New Jersey Northeast Region (Region 5) New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

The Raptor Trust
New Mexico Southwest Region (Region 2) New Mexico Game and Fish U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

The Sante Fe Raptor Center

Wildlife Rescue, Inc. of New Mexico

New York Northeast Region (Region 5) New York State Department of Environmental Conservation U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

North Country Wild Care

Delaware Valley Raptor Center

North Carolina Southeast Region (Region 4) North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Carolina Raptor Center

Cape Fear Raptor Center

North Dakota Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) North Dakota Game and Fish Department Dakota Zoo
Ohio Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) ODNR Division of Wildlife U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Medina Raptor Center

Glen Helen Raptor Center

The Ohio Bird Sanctuary

Raptor, Inc.

Oklahoma Southwest Region (Region 2) Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Oklahoma Raptor Center

Bah Kho-Je (People of the Grey Snow)

Oregon Pacific Region (Region 1) Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Cascades Raptor Center
Pennsylvania Northeast Region (Region 5) Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
Rhode Island Northeast Region (Region 5) State of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Born To Be Wild Nature Center
South Carolina Southeast Region (Region 4) South Carolina Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Center for Birds of Prey
South Dakota Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts Black Hills Raptor Center
Tennessee Southeast Region (Region 4) Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

American Eagle Foundation

Mid-South Raptor Center

Texas Southwest Region (Region 2) Texas Parks and Wildlife U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

Last Chance Forever
Utah Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) Utah Division of Wildlife Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah
Vermont Northeast Region (Region 5) Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Agency of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors Wildlife Rehabilitators

VINS Nature Center
Virginia National Headquarters Offices Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries U.S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Raptor Conservancy of Virginia

Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

The Wildlife Center of Virginia Website

Washington Pacific Region (Region 1) Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Sardis Raptor Center
West Virginia Northeast Region (Region 5) West Virginia Division of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center

Three Rivers Avian Center

Wisconsin Great Lakes-Big Rivers Region (Region 3) Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Wyoming Mountain-Prairie Region (Region 6) Wyoming Game & Fish Department U. S. Wildlife Rehabilitator Contacts

Southeastern Outdoors

Teton Raptor Center