What to Do if You Hit an Animal With Your Car

Every accident is upsetting, but hitting an animal is especially traumatizing, especially if it involves someone's pet. But animal accidents do unfortunately happen.

You can take steps to prevent animal accidents and do your best to minimize damage and injuries. If you hit an animal despite your best efforts, you can help by calling authorities for help and getting the animal to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitation center if possible. Read on to find out how the best way to deal with animal accidents.

How to Avoid Animal Accidents

Some animal accidents are inevitable. A squirrel or cat may dash out from underneath a car before you even notice they're on the street. Or you turn down a dark road at night and there's a deer right in front of you without enough room to stop. But there are some steps you can take to do your best to avoid having an accident with an animal and minimize the damage.

  • Be aware during dusk and dawn hours: Wild animals, especially deer, come out during the early morning and early evening hours, so you should be especially cautious on the roads during this time.
  • Be alert on wood lined roads: You're more likely to run into wildlife on the road if that road is lined with woods on either side. The road may be a crossing spot for animals.
  • Slow down when passing parked cars: Cats and other small animals may quickly run out into the street from under a parked car.
  • Avoid distracted driving: Distracted driving is always dangerous, but especially for animals. You'll need to be alert and have your eyes on the road to act quickly and avoid hitting an animal.
  • Don't speed: Obey posted speed limits, especially in areas prone to wildlife.
  • Be especially careful with deer: Accidents with deer can be harmful and even deadly to humans, causing serious damage not just to the animal, but the vehicle. They are large animals. Watch for deer warning signs and keep to the speed limit. Be especially on the alert for deer during the morning and early evening, when deer are most often found on the road.
  • Don't swerve: When avoiding an animal on the road, your best bet is honking and braking. Though it may be your instinct to swerve, this can be dangerous and cause you to lose control of your vehicle -- and you may hit the animal anyway. Simply make noise with your horn to warn the animal and other drivers and slow down as much as you possibly can.
  • Hit the gas at the last moment for deer and large animal collisions: If an impact with a deer is inevitable, you want to minimize the damage to your vehicle and body. If you slam on the brakes up until the point of impact, the deer may end up on or in your windshield. It's best to hit the gas at the moment just before impact so that your front end will rise up slightly and give you the best chance of hitting the deer with your bumper and front of your car.

If You Hit an Animal

After hitting an animal, you may be upset and worried about the animal. You may even have serious damage to your vehicle or have injuries from the accident. Here's how to react after an accident with an animal.

  • Stop driving: If you've hit an animal and they are injured, you should stop so that you can check on the animal and assess the scene.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: After an accident, and especially if you're upset, you may not be on the alert for cars, but you should be. Turn on your emergency lights, use flares if you have them, and always be aware of other vehicles on the road when you get out of the car.
  • Approach the animal: Watch out for other cars and be cautious of the animal, as they may be scared and lash out at you. If you've hit a pet, look for their tag so that you can contact its owner. Exceptions to this rule are deer or other large and dangerous animals. Deer that move off the road may survive and should be left alone. And if you happen to hit a bear, mountain lion, or other dangerous predator, it's best not to get out of your vehicle at all.
  • Don't try to move the animal unless if is safe to do so: Only move an animal if it is still in the road and you need to move it to safety, or it is docile and you're moving it to get it to a vet or wildlife rehabilitation center. When touching an injured animal, use a blanket and gloves for comfort and protection. Otherwise, wait for authorities to arrive.
  • Call a vet for help: While some animals may die on impact, others can survive an auto accident if you get help for them quickly. Call a vet to find out if you're able to bring the animal in for medical care or, if necessary, euthanasia. For wildlife, find your local wildlife rehabilitation organization.
  • Take photos of the scene: Do your best to document what happened and any damage that your vehicle sustained. This will be important for the police report and if you need to file a claim with your insurance company.
  • Report the accident to the police: Call the police to get help managing the accident and get in touch with animal control. In most countries, if you hit certain animals, you are required by law to report the accident to the police. These often include dogs, horses, and livestock. Often, they pose a safety hazard if left on the road and will need to be moved so that other drivers don't hit them. You may not be required to report accidents with other animals, like raccoons, cats, or squirrels, but you may want to contact the police anyway.
  • Contact your insurance company: If your vehicle has sustained damage, you'll need to call your insurance company to make a claim. Share as much information as you can about the incident and provide photos to back up your claim.
  • Contact animal control for dead animals: If the animal died from the impact, it will need to be removed from the road. Move it out of the way as much as you can and contact animal control to pick up the animal.
  • Tell your neighbors: If the accident happened in a neighborhood, but the animal had no identifying tag, spread the word about the accident so that the owner can find out what happened to their pet. Use signs or online social media to get the word out.

Photo by Flickr user countylemonade