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

America’s roads are expanding and humans continue to meet the natural landscapes and their animal inhabitants. It is not unusual for humans to cross paths with the wild, especially when construction increases and animal populations are reduced by modern expansion.

Wildlife can pose a serious and fatal threat to drivers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an average of 21 species federally endangered or threatened in the United States due to road mortality and other major threats. These species include the Hawaiian goose and desert tortoise as well as the San Joaquin Kit Fox, California Tiger Salamander, and San Joaquin Kit Fox. The Florida panther is particularly vulnerable and endangered.

Endangered and threatened species

Type of speciesAnimals at Risk
MammalsLower Keys marsh rabbits, Key deer (peninsular California), bighorn sheep, San Joaquin Kit Fox, Canada lynx.
ReptilesAmerican crocodile. Desert tortoise. Gopher tortoise. Alabama red-bellied Turtle. Bog turtle. Copperbelly water snake. Eastern indigo Snake.
AmphibiansFlatwoods salamander from California, California tiger salamander from Houston, and California tiger salamander from California.
BirdsAudubon’s crested Caracara, Hawaiian Goose, Florida Scrub Jay

The most at-risk areas

Although animal-vehicle collisions are possible anywhere, the Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study indicates that certain areas have a higher risk than others.

  • Motor vehicle collisions with deer occur in Michigan about every eight minutes.
  • New York’s vehicle accidents each year result in the death of over 75,000 deer.
  • A quarter of all AVCs in Colorado are related to wildlife.
  • One in 38 West Virginia deer are involved in an AVC.

These states are at a higher risk of AVCs than other states:

State at greatest risk for deer collisions in 2020

1.West Virginia1 in 37
2.Montana1 in 47
3.Pennsylvania1 out 51
4.South Dakota1 out 53
5.Michigan1 out 54

Highways vs. backroads

Due to the large volume of traffic both day and night, collisions with animals are less frequent on main roads and highways. Back roads have less traffic and are home to fewer people at night. Animals can feel at ease when they are in quiet areas. However, they will soon be in the path or traffic of oncoming vehicles. Drivers can become disoriented by the bright lights of a vehicle. Nearly half of motor vehicle accidents involving wildlife involved a driver who tried to avoid the animal.

It is also notable that 89% all collisions between wildlife and vehicles occurred on two-lane roads between 2001-2005. Vehicle crashes involving wildlife occurred on straight roads with smooth surfaces and ideal road conditions. AVCs are most likely to occur in spring and autumn when animals are more active during migration, mating or hunting. Deer accidents are most common in October and December.

Animals on the roads

Some AVCs can cause fatal injuries so it is important to be aware of what to do if you come across an animal while on your travels.


It is all about size

Nearly 90% of WVCs in some states involve deer, particularly white-tailed deer. There are many types of animals that are frequently involved in car accidents. Due to their size, moose are a common species in certain states. This causes more damage to the driver than other animals.

It is important to consider the size of the animal when determining how drivers react. It is much easier to maneuver around small animals than it is to steer around large animals like moose.

Animals that have been injured

Animals in distress are often scared and may become aggressive. Keep your distance so that you are safe and waiting for professionals to arrive to assist.

Here are some steps to follow

There are some things you can do to protect yourself and the wildlife you meet while driving.

  • Slow down. Allow more time for the animal to respond.
  • Make sure the animal is aware – Use flashing your headlights as a way to shock the deer.
  • Use your Horn – An effective way to get an animal to move is to honk the horn.
  • Don’t swerve – If you stray from your path, it will increase the chance of a collision. You could also be held responsible if an accident occurs. Instead, keep your distance and let the animal move.

Pets on the roads

Animal-vehicle collisions are on the rise due to pets. Pets can easily slip out of a window or door, or sneak out of your car if you’re not paying attention. According to the American Humane Society, approximately 10,000,000 pets are lost every year in the United States.

Many pets can become victims to road hazards, including their owners who might try to grab a wandering pet. It can be dangerous for your pet and you, as well as causing accidents with other motorists.

What should you do if your pet is lost?

You should contact local authorities regardless of your ability to secure the animal. They will send someone to rescue the pet until its owner is located. Make sure you note the address and coordinates where the animal was last seen. Do not enter busy roads to chase a pet.

Animal rescue

You should pull over if you spot a lost pet. Accidents can be caused by errant pets and could pose a danger to other vehicles. Talking softly and gently can calm a pet who is afraid or lost.

You can find some things that will help you locate a lost or escaped pet close to roads.

  • Carrier – A spare pet carrier for a cat or dog can be a lifesaver and help to locate a lost pet on the road.
  • Slip leashes- Slip Leashes are an easy way to quickly and effectively lock your pet’s door and prevent it from slipping away.
  • Reflective vest- A reflective vest can help you see clearly, especially when you are forced to travel on roads in dangerous conditions like rain or fog.
  • Treats – A few treats may be enough to entice fearful pets and build trust.
  • Blanket – A blanket is a blanket that can be used to comfort a scared or trembling pet, as well as protecting your car from dirt and fur.

Collisions between animals and people

Accidents can occur, no matter how careful you drive. Here are a few steps to take if this happens.

What to do?

  1. Pull over. Find somewhere out of traffic so you can safely get out of your car. Make sure your hazard lights are on so you are visible.
  2. Inspect for damage. Verify the safety of your passengers. Make sure no one needs medical attention. To determine if your vehicle is safe to drive, assess its condition.
  3. Contact the police. You may have to file a police report if your vehicle is damaged so that you can file an insurance claim. They can help an animal in distress, direct traffic, and clean up debris after a collision.
  4. Contact wildlife resources. Check your state for organizations you can contact to help an animal in distress.
  5. Take photos of the damage and the scene to document the incident. You can then give them to your insurance company.
  6. Get in touch with your insurance company.

Your car insurance policy might cover you for damages caused by an accident. To learn more about your coverage, and to file an insurance claim, contact your car insurance company. Roadside assistance is especially useful.

Who is at fault?

Researchers believe there are more collisions than 300,000. However, federal crash databases only report about 300,000. An accident that causes less than $1,000 in damage may not be reported in official reporting. Studies still estimate that AVCs cause property damage exceeding $1 billion each year.

Auto insurance coverage might be modified if you are in an accident. Collision coverage usually covers other vehicles but not animals. You may need additional comprehensive insurance if your collision coverage doesn’t protect you against animals.

Safety tips

These tips will help you avoid collisions between animal-vehicle vehicles on the roads.

  1. Be aware. Deer are more active at night, after dusk and before sunset, when they are more likely to wander onto roads.
  2. Slow down. Speed not only increases the chance of an accident, but can also increase the severity. Slowing down allows you to react faster in the event that an animal crosses your path.
  3. Pay attention to posted signs. Authorities have established animal crossings to warn motorists of high-traffic areas that are dangerous for wildlife. These signs should be seen on the roads.
  4. Slow down. Low speeds can take away precious time. Be aware of your surroundings and drive slowly.
    • Planning integrated
    • Wildlife fencing
    • Wildlife crossing over structures
    • Animal detection systems
    • Information and education for the public

    For example, in Canada, the Banff National Park made remarkable progress with 22 wildlife underpasses. Two overpasses were also built. All of these have reduced roadkill by an astonishing 80%. Montana has begun construction of 43 animal crossings along Highway 93 to reduce AVCs involving bears and moose.