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20 Aug 2018
Jamie Gibbs Alice Campion

Safe driving: Animals on the road


Driver’s dread hitting an animal on the road, but legally there are steps you have to take after the accident has occurred.

Animals on the road warning sign

When on the road, a fear of many drivers is hitting an animal. If you’re unfortunate enough to have this happen to you, there are certain rules that you have to abide by.

On the other hand, a few people see ‘roadkill’ as an opportunity for a feed. With some preferring this meat to supermarkets as the source of the meat is known.

But as seemingly ecological as it is, there are still rules to follow. More info.

Animal awareness

Keep an eye out for road signs. If there’s a high volume of animals in a particular area they’ll usually have a road sign alerting motorists. 

For example, deer, otters, and even frogs have signs alerting people that they cross the road (it’s not just chickens!). If you see these signs, stay vigilant and adjust speed accordingly. 

Also make full use of your lights at night,especially if you’re travelling through the countryside. Using full beam when safe and legal will increase visibility of any critters on the road. 

Can I emergency stop for an animal?

You can stop for an animal, providing you don’t cause danger to any other motorists. 

If you swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting a small animal and cause an accident you’ll be liable. 

This applies to emergency stopping. The main rule is not to put other motorists in danger. So if you emergency stop and the car behind runs into you, you may be liable. 

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However it could be argued that they may have been an improper distance away from you. It does all depend on the scenario. Generally though if you’re putting another motorist in danger, don’t emergency stop. 

Cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, goats are a different matter. The size of these animals could cause injury to yourself and passengers. And the size of them means that they are visible to other motorists. 

Insurance and liability

You should be able to claim if injury is caused to the driver or passenger and the vehicle is damaged. The terms and conditions of your policy should be thoroughly checked though.

If the animal is a pet or a farm animal, then you could argue it’s the responsibility of the owner. As it’s up to them to keep the animal secure. 

But if you hit a wild animal and you make a claim, you’ll lose your no claims bonus. 

What to do when you hit an animal

Just like you would in an accident involving another vehicle, you must stop. But before you approach any animal you must ensure you’re safe. 

Make sure the road is clear and you’re visible if the lighting is poor. You don’t want to put yourself or anyone else in any danger. 

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

  • dogs

  • horses

  • cattle, e.g cows

  • pigs

  • goats

  • sheep

  • donkeys and mules

This applies whether the animal is dead or injured.

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. 

Any other deceased animal, whether you’ve hit it or not can be reported to the council. You can do this on the government website

What to do if you hit a dog or cat

No one wants to think about hitting someone’s pet. But there are a few steps you can take to avoid any extra trauma for the owner, and yourself.

Legally you have to report a dog if you hit it. Unfortunately though, cats don’t have to be reported. But the decent thing to do is to try and reach the owner of the animal.

Once you’ve performed your safety checks, see whether the animal has a collar, as it may have the owners details on. 

Be careful when you approach the animal. It could be wary of people anyway and when animals are injured, they can often be more aggressive. 

You can then take it to the nearest vetor call the RSPCA’s emergency line for advice and support. 

Read more: Keeping your dog safe in the car

Helping injured animals on the road

First of all consider your own safety and the safety of others around you. Remember these are wild animals, always take care when approaching them. 

If you want to help the animal you should observe it first to see how badly hurt it is. Then if possible, call a vet or a wildlife rehabilitator. They may be able to take it in.

Take a look at the RSPCA injured animal help page for further advice. 

Use your common sense, don’t try to transport any of the following animals:

  • deer

  • wild boar

  • otter

  • badger

  • fox

  • snakes

  • birds of prey

  • swans

  • geese

  • herons and gulls

 Stay back, keep an eye on the animal and call the RSPCA 24 hour advice line on 0300 1234 999.

Duck on the road

‘Roadkill’ rules 

Although for some the idea of cooking up a dead animal from the roadside is a stomach-turner, for others it’s Sunday dinner. 

And it’s seen as ecologically sourced. After all, you know where it’s come from, and it’s in plentiful supply. 

But there are still rules to follow when looking for a little roadside scran. 

There’s a train of thought that if you hit an animal, you can’t pick it up, but the person behind you can.

This is a grey area though. So if you do happen to hit an animal and then stop to pick it up, it could be argued that you did it intentionally. Even if this isn’t the case. 


Although you’re unlikely to encounter a swan on the road, wild unmarked mute swans are the property of the crown. And there are certain rules surrounding these animals. 

If you see one dead at the roadside we would advise not to pick it up and report it the council.   

Badgers and wild birds 

Badgers are a specially protected species, and it’s illegal to possess one dead or alive. 

However if you’ve found this animal at the roadside, then you can take it and eat it. As long as you can prove that you didn’t kill it. 

The same applies to wild birds. They are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

But it’s legal to eat a wild bird if it’s discovered dead or is roadkill. But again you must prove that you didn’t kill it. 

Generally this provides a good rule of thumb if you’re interested in picking up roadkill. 

It’s worth noting that although by the roadside, these animals may not have been killed by the impact of a car.

Illness, poisoning or other causes could be the reason for the animal’s demise, which could deem the meat unfit for consumption.

First published on the 8th of January 2018 


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