The last thing on most drivers’ minds when they’re enjoying motoring on jam-free roads through the countryside or heading off to the cinema on an evening is that they could end up hitting an animal. It can happen to any of us, though, and can be especially upsetting for young and newly-qualified drivers.
Unusually, the Highway Code isn’t much help with situations like these, as rules 47 to 58 relating to animals mainly talk about horse riders and dog owners keeping their animals under control. It’s the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988 that gives us the answer when it comes to the actual law. Section 170 says:
“Duty of driver to stop, report accident and give information or documents: (1) This section applies in a case where, owing to the presence of a [mechanically propelled vehicle] on a road [or other public place], an accident occurs by which (b) damage is caused — (ii) to an animal other than an animal in or on that [mechanically propelled vehicle] or a trailer drawn by that [mechanically propelled vehicle]”
So, that seems pretty clear then, doesn’t it? If a driver causes ‘damage’ (injury) to or kills an animal, then he or she must safely stop, report the accident and provide more docs or info – right?
The actual law isn’t quite as straightforward as that, because part (8) of section 170 of the Road Traffic Act goes on to state:
“In this section “animal” means horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog.”
Yep, it’s tragic for lovers of cats, rabbits and any other fluffy creatures, but the law doesn’t class them as animals to stop your car for, basically giving a driver the right to keep on driving if they injure or kill any other four or two-legged friend like a fox, squirrel, pheasant or grouse.
In May/June when all the fawns (baby deers) are let out, and then in the October/November rutting season, there’s a pretty big chance that deer will wander into the road in more rural parts of the UK. Deer aren’t included in the RTA’s ‘animal’ definition, but the sheer size of them means they need a special mention.
- When driving, look out for deer signs and be extra aware around sunrise and sunset
- Keep your speed down because a deer could appear at any time
- This is especially true on twisty roads that don’t have good visibility around bends
- If you do see a deer up ahead, try not to panic (easier said than done, we know)
- Slow down as quickly as possible (being mindful or other road users), avoid swerving as this could endanger you, your passengers and other road users
- Don’t honk your horn or flash your headlights, as this can spook an animal and make it panic
- If you do hit a deer, pull over as soon as you can safely do so
- Check that your passengers are ok before visually inspecting your car for damage
- Reporting the accident to the police, along with the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999, would be the nice thing to do, but each driver has to make that decision.
True, the list of tips above can help avoid hitting other animals, too, and it’s always best to drive with full beam headlights switched on at sunset onwards – unless other cars are approaching, obviously.
It’s fairly common to see dead badgers in the road. Even though drivers aren’t required to report any that have been hit or killed, the badger is actually a specially-protected species. If your heart strings are pulled by a hurt or deceased badger, (it’s illegal to put one in your car for any reason, such as taking it to a vet) just phone the police, RSPCA or the local council.
Going back to the Road Traffic Act law, a driver must stop, contact the police and remain on the scene if they injure or kill a dog, horse or one of the common farm animals listed. Just make sure your parked car doesn’t cause an obstruction, resist the temptation to get too close to the animal in case it acts aggressively, and wait for help if the animal is still caught up in your car somehow.
If your car is damaged after colliding with an animal, safely stop as soon as you can and phone your insurer, who will be able to advise you on the relevant policy terms. If safe to do so, take photos as evidence and obtain any possible witness statements. Making a claim after hitting a wild animal can sometimes affect a no-claims bonus (NCB), so it’s worth checking before continuing your journey.
Hopefully you’ll never hit or kill an animal in all your future years of driving, but this advice is good to keep in mind just in case.