If you've ever driven around a corner in the night only to have your high beams illuminate a forest animal standing in the middle of the street, you know the feeling of being stricken with sudden terror. Animal crossings result in many fatal automobile accidents every year, often taking drivers by surprise and causing serious damage.
According to State Farm Insurance, there are around 1.5 million animal-related car accidents annually, amounting to 10,000 injuries and 150 deaths. Car crashes with animals result in about $2,500 worth of damage on average. With so much risk - particularly in spring and fall when animals are more likely to be on the move as a result of migration and hunting patterns - drivers need to be aware of the potential consequences animals in the road pose and how to avoid disaster.
What to watch out for
The risk of certain animals crossing the road will vary greatly depending on where you live. For example, if you live in farm country, keep your eyes peeled for traffic signs that indicate where livestock may be crossing. In the mountains, you may need to be aware of common spots for moose or deer crossing. Road signs indicating potential hazards, including animal crossings, may tip you off to be more cautious, but you should also be on the lookout even if there is not a sign and you are driving through a wooded area.
In general, animals may be more likely to seek food at dawn and dusk, so you should be especially mindful and watchful for animals in the road. Make sure your headlights are on when necessary and use your high beams to illuminate the edges of the road whenever possible. The farther in advance you can spot an animal, the more time you will have to react.
What to do when approaching an animal
If you come across an animal in the road, you should do your best to avoid it. However, swerving into oncoming traffic or off the road is very dangerous and could put you in greater risk of injury or losing control of your vehicle. In addition, animals are unpredictable and swerving may not avoid a crash. Instead of swerving abruptly, you should slow down, tapping your brakes to warn other drivers behind you. It can also be a good idea to sound your horn as an additional warning if there are vehicles following you. If the road is clear behind you, brake hard to reduce the impact of the animal or to stop before hitting it.
If you do hit an animal and you are not injured, you should not touch the animal, as it is likely frightened or injured and could still pose a risk to your safety. Contact local authorities if the animal is unable to move from the road.
How animals can crash your auto insurance
Unfortunately, animal car crashes can result in extensive damage. Of course, it is most important that you are uninjured, but hitting an animal can also mean that you will need to file a claim with your car insurance company. Contact your insurance provider as soon as you can and take photos of the damage at the scene if possible.