If you're unlucky enough to hit an animal on the road, or if you see one that's injured, follow these steps.
No one wants to hit an animal while driving. But 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, cats and dogs feature prominently. Not because they’re more likely to be hit by a vehicle, but because unlike foxes, hedgehogs or squirrels, they’re deemed worth reporting.
But what can an you do to avoid a collision with a creature while driving or riding? And what you should do if you’re unfortunate enough to be involved in this type of accident?
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:
cattle, e.g cows
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 potentially 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 is not acceptable.
Do you have to report hitting a dog or cat?
If you hit a dog, you have to report it to the police. But you don't have to report hitting a cat to the police.
If you've hit a dog and they're wearing a tag, make sure you pass on the details to the police.
You should also check to see if the owner is near the scene of the collision and if they are, take care when informing them of what has 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 may also responsible for any damage caused to the vehicle.
If you hit a cat, you aren't required by law to tell the police.
However, you should make an effort to trace the cat's owner by looking for a collar and let them know what has happened. If you can't, try to contact a local vet.
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 as safe
- Park your car in the safest place with hazard lights
- 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 a road, 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, and 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 will 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 – if 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, you’ll help any passing young children avoid sleepless nights and make sure that other motorists won’t have to deal with any subsequent collision with the dead animal.
Also, the local authority may be freer to respond than the police.
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 policy provider.
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 akin to 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 dashcam recordings, taking photos of the scene – however unpleasant – and the surroundings. You could also 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 do not 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.
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 is not to 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 will happen, particularly at night when it is even harder to avoid hitting an animal that appears out of the undergrowth.
Driving well within the speed limit, and taking note of triangular road signs warning of the likely presence of animals, such as deer, ducks or even toads, can help limit accidents.
Also, use full beam on quiet rural roads, although be aware that you’ll need to dip the lights if other vehicles loom.