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What to do if you hit an animal on the road

It’s a sad fact that thousands of animals, from hedgehogs and cats to badgers and deer, are killed or injured each year on UK roads. 

Deer, farm animals and dogs feature prominently. Not because they’re more likely to be hit by a vehicle, but because they’re deemed worth reporting.

hat should you do if you’re unfortunate enough to be involved in this type of accident? We take a look.

A car approaches a deer on the road

What to do if you hit an animal with your car

 

The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that legally, you must report hitting the following animals to the police:

  • Dogs

  • Horses

  • Cows

  • Pigs

  • Goats

  • Sheep

  • Donkeys and mules

If you've hit an animal on the road, here's what to do:

  • Just like you would in an accident involving another vehicle, you must stop.

  • You should remain at the scene until the police, the RSPCA or the animal's owner arrives.

  • Before you do anything, make sure you're safe. Look out for other vehicles and hazards. This applies to approaching the animal too. It could lash out if it's injured so try and keep a distance.

  • If you can see the animal is someone's pet you could check the collar - if it's safe to do so - and contact the owner.

  • Once you’ve reported it to the police, your legal duty is done. If the animal is injured and you wish to help further you can contact the RSPCA’s emergency service on 0300 1234 999 for advice. 

 

Can I make an emergency stop for an animal?

Any sudden, unexpected manoeuvre can be perilous. You could make an emergency stop in traffic should a deer or cow wander into your path.

But slamming too hard on the brakes or swerving into the path of oncoming traffic isn’t acceptable.

 

What to do if you run over a dog

Running over a dog is different to other animals and you have to report it to the police. 

Hitting a dog with your car can be a horrible experience for everyone involved. But if it does happen you should check to see if it has a tag or a collar and give these details to the police. 

You should also check to see if the owner is near the scene of the collision. If they are, take care when informing them of what’s happened.

Dog owners are normally responsible if their pet is run over by a car. This is because the law states that any person who lets a dog run onto a road off the lead is guilty of an offence. 

The owner might also be responsible for any damage caused to the vehicle.

 

Running over a cat

If you run over a cat, you aren't required by law to tell the police. But although legally you don’t need to do anything after hitting a cat with your car, you should make an effort to trace the cat's owner. 

If it is wearing a collar, this may have details of the pet’s owner. If not, you can contact a local vet - or drop the cat to the vet - and it can examine the cat to see if it has a microchip.  

 

What to do if you've hit a deer

According to the GOV.UK website, if you hit a deer you should follow these steps:

  • Keep yourself and anyone with you safe

  • Park your car in the safest place with hazard lights on

  • Call an ambulance if anyone is injured

  • Call the police

Never leave your vehicle to check on the deer - wait for the police to deal with the incident. 

 

What happens if you hit a swan?

Swans have been known to crash-land onto roads, which can lead to a frightful scene. Typically, the bird mistakes a road, usually a wet one, for a stretch of water and takes an unfortunate dive.

If this happens in front of your car, take care as these birds are powerful, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, so don’t approach them.

Call the RSPCA if it seems unlikely that the bird will recover and move off of its own accord. Use safe methods of warning other motorists, but don’t take any risks.

Finally, do not treat swans as roadkill - they’re the property of the monarch and it’s a criminal offence to injure, kill or eat them.

 

Helping other injured animals on the road

Injured animals can be dangerous. They might be in pain and could lash out at a well-meaning passer-by. So motorists and pedestrians who come across an injured critter should act cautiously.

You don’t want to antagonise the animal, or put yourself in danger.

Draw attention to the injured party, perhaps by parking up and using hazard lights or a warning triangle. That’s as long as it’s safe to do so and you’re not blocking the carriageway.

But don’t do anything that could put other lives in danger. Call the RSPCA for advice, if needed.

When to contact the local authority if you hit an animal

It is also a good idea to let the local authority or council know if a collision results in a dead animal at the side of the road.

If nothing else, other motorists won’t have to deal with any subsequent collisions with the dead animal.

Also, the local authority might be freer to respond than the police.

 

Roadkill and the law

It’s a sad fact of life that many animals are killed on our roads. This is especially the case at night when it’s dark, and on country roads. 

If you hit an animal such as a pheasant or fox, you can report it to your local council. This includes wild animals like badgers along with domestic pets such as cats and dogs.

While there are no laws around removing roadkill, it’s generally advised not to as you don’t know anything about the animal or where it has come from. It could be infected with a disease, for example, or it could have been dead for a while.

 

Do car insurance policies cover hitting an animal?

Most comprehensive car insurance policies should cover you for a collision with an animal, but it’s worth considering a few points that could sway the outcome of any claim. First, you need to have been abiding by the law and local signage.

If local road signs make it clear livestock also use the road ahead, driving into a crowd of sheep at speed is unlikely to be well received by your insurer.

On the other hand, the Highway Code makes it clear that animals being herded should be under control, with an assistant going ahead to warn other road users if necessary.

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What evidence do I need if I hit an animal?

A collision with an animal can lead to serious damage to your car, and injury to anyone travelling within it.

Hitting a deer or cow can be like smashing into a brick wall. It could well result in a write-off or worse, and in some cases a counter claim from the owner of the animal involved in the accident.

For this reason, always gather as much evidence from the scene of the accident as possible.

This could include:

  • Noting and backing up any dash cam recordings

  • Taking photos of the scene – however unpleasant – and the surroundings. 

  • Gather any witness statements if possible

Pay attention to holes in fences, gates left secured and so on. All the time, take care, as you may be injured or in shock.

You should also ensure you and other passengers don’t put yourselves in harm’s way. 

 

How to avoid hitting an animal on the road

Animals are unpredictable. For this reason, always exercise caution when approaching and passing one that’s on or by a road.

Deer, livestock and ridden horses can get spooked by a loud or fast-moving vehicle. Slow down to a safe speed until you’re well beyond them. The Highway Code changed in early 2022 with new rules on driving near horse riders.

Certain regions and localities have a higher concentration of species of animal at different times of the year. For instance, September to November is the UK deer rutting season, when stags compete for a mate.

At this time of the year, deer may be more visible and more aggressive, and the damage they can cause to a vehicle shouldn’t be underestimated.

Just because you can see deer in parks, such as Richmond in south-west London, doesn’t mean they're tame.

Treat them like any other wild animal, especially when their testosterone levels are up.

Accidents happen, particularly at night when it’s even harder to avoid hitting an animal that appears out of the undergrowth.

Driving well within the speed limit, and taking note of road signs warning of animals, such as deer, ducks or even toads, help limit accidents.

Also, use full beam lights on quiet rural roads, although be aware that you need to dip the lights if other vehicles approach.