Wait – don't swerve! How to safely share the road with wildlife
Drivers who spot animals in their path shouldn’t necessarily follow their first instincts, experts say. Here are some tips for safely handling wildlife encounters on the road.
Canadian drivers often find themselves sharing the road with a variety of wildlife, from moose to squirrels.
And while a driver’s first instinct might be to brake suddenly, get out of the car to help the animals cross the street, or quickly swerve away from creatures, experts say these may not be the best ways to keep either humans or animals safe.
“The decision is often made in two seconds. So what to do has to be thought of long before,” Young Drivers of Canada President Peter Christianson told CTVNews.ca.
“We would do our best to save any animal on the road, however our first priority is to save the people. Sometimes we have to sacrifice a squirrel or a pigeon for our own safety.”
To help keep drivers unharmed, and to prevent unnecessary road kill, CTVNews.ca has compiled a list of tips gleaned from provincial driving guides published across the country.
How to spot and avoid animals:
- Slow down and scan the road. Speeding increases your risk of crashing into an animal (or another car).
- Be extra vigilant at dusk and dawn, the two most common times for animal collisions. According to Ontario Ministry of National Resources spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski, animals such as elk, moose, and deer are often out looking for food at those times.
- Watch for what may appear to be shining lights at the side of the road. Those may in fact be the beams from vehicle headlights reflecting off of animals’ eyes.
- Alberta’s driving guide (http://www.transportation.alberta.ca/2019.htm) says that animals often travel in groups and that if you spot one, there are likely more around.
- Use high beams whenever possible, says the website for the Ontario Ministry of National Resources.
If you see an animal:
- Check your mirrors first, to make sure it’s safe to slow down or stop.
- Reduce speed and honk your horn, says the Ontario drivers’ handbook.
- Stay in control of your car. Ont. Natural Resources spokesperson Kowalski told CTVNews.ca that, “People automatically want to swerve and that’s not necessarily the thing to do because your car could go out of control.”
- Christianson also said drivers should avoid their gut-reaction to swerve away. “We would only swerve if we had a safe escape route or if it was a deer or a moose, either of which could kill us,” he said.
- Beware of the animal suddenly bolting in an unexpected direction.
- Do not exit your car. This puts you at risk of getting hit by another vehicle.
- “It’s one of the most dangerous things you can do,” Christianson said. “The shoulder of the road is no place to stop unless you’re in a true emergency.”
If you hit an animal
- If a crash is unavoidable, the B.C. guide advises striking large animals on an angle, so that the creature’s body doesn’t crash through the windshield.
- Don’t try to move an injured animal from the road alone, says the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
- Report the crash to local authorities.