What to Do During a Wildlife Collision

If a crash with wildlife is inevitable, you should aim for the spot where the animal is coming from rather than where it is going

We’ve all been there. You’re on a wide, dry, empty country road, and you wonder “why does it have such a low-speed limit? I’m a good driver, I’ve got good tires, I can speed through here without any problems.”

But, maybe traffic engineers set the speed limit low not because of the road design but because this is an area where deer keep diving through windshields. That slow speed limit is there so you have enough time to scan the bushes for suicidal deer and stop in time if one wanders into the roadway.

Elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deer and moose will leap in front of your vehicle for seemingly no reason. Also, the faster your speed, the worse the collision!

In an earlier post, I reviewed what drivers can do to reduce the chances of having a wildlife-vehicle collision. Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.

Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. Reduce speed in wildlife zones. Drive defensibly and actively watch for wildlife movement or shining eyes on and beside the road. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife.

Bighorn sheep in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One deer means more deer. Deer travel in herds and if you see one, slow right down as there will be many more. Moose are less gregarious, so one moose may simply mean one moose but it is still suggestive that more moose are in the area. And cows are frequently with a calf.

Bison in Elk Island National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What if a Wildlife Collision is Inevitable?

In certain situations, there is no real choice except to hit the wild animal. Diminish the impact if it is inevitable. If an accident with a deer, elk, or moose is inevitable, consider the following suggestions for lessening the impact.

If it appears impossible to avoid the animal, aim for the spot the animal came from, not where it is going. This may take you away from it and the animal is more likely to keep moving forward rather than backtracking. This will only work if there is one animal.

Deer in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shift your line of eyesight to where you want to go, not at the animal. You tend to drive where you look―if you are looking at the animal, that is where the vehicle tends to go.

Try to skim rather than fully impact the animal. If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit. Brake firmly and quickly, then look and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle. Take your foot off the brake as you impact. The release of the brake causes a slight lift of the front end of the vehicle and reduces the chances of the animal coming through your windshield if your vehicle is tall enough. The deer isn’t going to be okay, but you will.

If you’re heading into a collision, lean toward the door pillar. In the Mythbusters where they tested this, the center of the car was completely crushed in every impact but the triangle by the door pillar was intact in each accident. No guarantees are offered; you are far better off avoiding the collision.

Elk in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do Following a Wildlife Collision?

This depends on the type and condition of the road, the amount of traffic, the type of animal, and the condition of the driver. Take care after a collision with a deer, elk, bear, or moose. 

Check passengers for injuries and treat accordingly. Even if there are no injuries, shock may occur fairly quickly. Try to reassure one another and if it is cold, put on warmer clothing immediately as shock or fear increases the inability to ward off cold. If it is winter, stay in the car for warmth.

Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are some important steps to take after assessing if everyone is relatively unharmed. Pull off the road if possible. Turn on hazard lights and if you can, illuminate the animal with your headlights. Use road flares or triangles if you have them. Warn other drivers if there is a carcass on the road which poses a hazard. 

Bison in Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may choose to carefully approach the animal to determine if it is dead or injured. If it is injured, back off. An injured animal can be very dangerous; it may kick or gore you from fear and pain.

You may choose to remove a dead animal from the road so that it does not present a hazard to other drivers. Quick removal prevents other animals from being attracted to the highway. Only attempt to remove the animal if you are 100 percent certain that it is dead, it is safe to do so, and you are physically capable of moving it. 

Inspect your vehicle to see if it is safe to continue driving.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Call the police immediately or flag down help. Remember that most insurance companies won’t pay for the damages you suffer from hitting a deer or a moose if you don’t file a police report. Report vehicle damage to your insurance company.  

Worth Pondering…

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor