It’s autumn, a time when animals are on the move and the days are growing shorter. When wildlife is moving it means they are crossing roads, so you’re right to be concerned about accidentally hitting an animal. You’re ahead of most drivers, simply by being aware of the need to be watchful to avoid collisions with wildlife. But here are more tips to keep both you and wildlife safe—at all times, and especially during the shift in seasons and daylight saving time, when more collisions with animals occur.
Driving with Wildlife in Mind…
Nearly every kind of ground dwelling and even some flighted animals cross or use roads to find food, water, safe cover, or mates. Here are a few specific animals and behaviors to keep in mind to better help you to avoid collisions:
- Fall is the time for the annual rut—the breeding season for deer. They will be preoccupied with mating, with males in pursuit of females, and even less concerned about carefully crossing the road. So be on the watch from late afternoon through the evening when driving. Always watch for more animals if one crosses in front of you, something to keep in mind regardless of the season.
- Nocturnal animals like raccoons, skunks, and opossums are out foraging as dark approaches.
- Skunks, armadillos, and porcupines are slow moving crepuscular (active in early morning and evening) animals and tend to wander—sometimes haphazardly along road corridors—a good reason to keep your speed in check.
Driving with wildlife in mind protects both you and wildlife, so follow these tips year-round for safety on the roads. Share these tips with other drivers as a reminder, and especially with young drivers who have not yet experienced seasonal changes and are not aware of the dangers animals along the road present or what to look out for.
- Follow posted speed limits and adjust them accordingly to heightened seasonal activity so that you can improve your chances of safely avoiding a collision if animals do cross your path.
- Scan both road edges as you drive to see if wildlife are about to cross or are along the shoulder or road edge.
- Be especially mindful at dusk and dawn when animals are most likely to be moving about and when your eyes are less adjusted to the ambient light levels.
- Slow down to 45 mph or less (unless posted at a lower limit) on two-lane roads when driving through woods or fields or crossing over streams.
- Pay special attention to posted wildlife crossing signs, they have been marked for a reason!
- Lower your dashboard lights a little, so you’ll be more likely to see reflections of your headlights in an animal’s eyes, perhaps allowing you to safely brake in time to avoid a collision.
- Use your high beams as often as you can being sure to toggle them to low beams as you approach other vehicles to avoid temporarily blinding them.
- Throw trash where it belongs—wild animals are tempted onto the road by the scent of food or food wrappers people carelessly toss out of car windows.
If accident occurs, or if you encounter an animal someone else has injured, here’s what you’ll want to do:
- Only try to move the animal off the road if you are absolutely certain you can do so without risking your own or someone else’s safety. This includes taking into account not just the nature of the road and traffic conditions, but the size and nature of the animal. Large animals or those likely to bite or that have large antlers should be left alone until those with professional training can come to their aid. (Caution: serious human injury and deaths have resulted from Good Samaritan’s attempts to move or help animals along the road)
- If possible alert other drivers to the injured animal by putting on your hazard lights or using emergency road flares.
- Find the non-emergency number for the local police department and contact them to alert them to the traffic hazard, so they will come quickly.
- If attempting to rescue a small wild animal on your own, protect yourself with heavy gloves and use a towel to help move the animal into a cardboard box (or animal carrier if you happen to have one). Caution: All mammals can carry rabies so if you do choose to rescue an animal please use gloves or a container to ensure that you do not have direct contact.
- Transport the animal directly to an animal shelter, a wildlife rehabilitator, or a veterinarian who you know is receptive to wounded wildlife.
- The animal will be stressed, so try to keep things quiet and calm.
If an animal has been killed on the road, it is best to move them off the road so scavenger animals are not drawn onto the road causing more potential conflicts. Only attempt this yourself if you are sure you can do so safely. Often, it will be safer for you to contact local police on their non-emergency number and alert them to the situation so they can have the animal removed.
With so many roads now cutting through what was once contiguous habitat for wildlife, you’re sure to see more wildlife crossing your path. Encourage all whom you know to watch out for them—you’ll be saving wildlife and making your friends and family safer on the road.
“Don’t Be a Killer Car!”