hit-animal-while-driving-guide

What to Do If You Hit an Animal While Driving

With our long stretches of roads and great land mass, New Zealand is a country that could’ve been created just for driving. There are over 5 million vehicles driving around, many of which are on the road daily. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the impact this might have on the animals who share our space.

With all these people on the roads, and human infrastructure ever encroaching on the territory of native wildlife and farm animals, many car accidents involve creatures large and small.

And then there’s domestic pets. As valued members of more New Zealander households than not, the likelihood of injury by car is a real concern. That’s why pet insurance is such a good idea – it helps you help your beloved furry family member when they really need it.

So, what do you do if you hit an animal while driving?

Native Wildlife

As our country continues to develop, more and more native wildlife habitats are lost to land clearing. Animals find themselves homeless as the pockets of forests and bushland they call home get smaller.

If wallabies, deer, elk, hedgehogs, stoats, rabbits, etc, don’t have access to the right trees, food or water, they’ll travel to find them. This often means crossing roads and highways. And as their habitats can be on the city fringes, this means higher speed limits and…. well, we all know the outcome.

Then there’s the likes of animals such as penguins, who come ashore at dusk, wander onto roads and are difficult for drivers to see due to their skin colour.

All Kinds of Animals at Risk

A significant number of car accidents in rural areas involve livestock or wildlife, and there are even more ‘near misses’ where a vehicle swerved to avoid them.

The vast majority hit are native animals. However, farm animals such as sheep, horses, cattle and goats are often found wandering on rural roads.

And, sadly, many dogs and cats are hit in city and suburban areas every day. The increasing number of pets in New Zealand means an increased risk of hitting one when you’re on the road.

It might be because they’ve escaped from their home, stepped out from the curb at the wrong time or wandered off when their owner takes a break on a pet-friendly road trip.

Safety First: Yours and the Animals

You’ll know if you hit an animal – there is a heart-stopping thud that quickly turns into a distressing realisation.

If this happens you first need to make sure it’s safe for you to pull over and exit the vehicle. Your initial instinct will be to immediately get out of the car and tend to the injured animal. Instead, before you do anything, be careful of other traffic about; don’t risk your life.

All clear? Pull over to the side of the road, put your handbrake on and turn on your hazard lights. Time to tend to the animal.

If it has been killed, and it’s safe to do so, it is your responsibility to remove it from the road. This will eliminate the hazard for other drivers. Be extra cautious with mammals such as wallabies or hedgehogs as they may have babies in their pouches.

If the animal is alive, it will be at the very least frightened and likely injured. You’ll need to assess how safely you can help it. For example, how large or hostile is it? Big or small, many animals can become aggressive when feeling threatened.

If you can do so without risking your own safety, approach the animal quietly and calmly from behind. You need to cover it then keep it warm and quiet while you seek help, so handle it using a towel, blanket or clothing. This protects both you and them.

Make sure the bite-y and scratchy body parts are covered before carrying it to your car. An unconscious animal may wake up during the rescue mission, and may cause further damage to you or your car interior (as well as the poor animal itself).

Or, you may choose to wait by the side of the road for an animal rescue group.

Either way you will need to make it as comfortable and calm as possible. And be sure to wash your hands as soon as you can! Keeping liquid detergent in the car will help keep the germs at bay.

When not to handle an injured animal

There may be times when moving an injured animal would put you at risk and cause further injury to the animal. If you’re unsure, the police, a vet or an animal rescue centre will be able to provide further advice.

Aside from bites and scratches, there’s the potential you could pick up any number of diseases or develop a nasty infection. For example, never touch or handle any bats as they are likely to carry viruses that are harmful to humans.

If you do get bitten or scratched by the animal you’re trying to care for, flush the wound with water then follow basic first aid and watch for signs of infection.

From there, visit your GP as soon as you can. You may need antibiotics, a tetanus booster or some other kind of shot to guard against any nasties. Animal’s teeth and nails can carry nasty bacteria that can get into your blood and make you very sick, and quickly.

Where to Take an Animal Hit by the Car and Who to Call

If the animal is still alive or it has live babies, you could find the closest vet and take the animal there. You’ll find most vets will take in and treat injured native wildlife and domestic animals.

If it’s a pet that’s microchipped and/or collared, the vet can contact the owners after checking it over. They may have already received a call from the owner anyway – many people will call the vets in their area as soon as a pet has escaped.

Your other option is to keep the animal where it is – covered up and kept warm and quiet – then call ‘555’. Traffic Emergency Services will provide advice on where to go from here.

Or, you might call a wildlife rescue group such as the Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of New Zealand or a bird rescue organisation. The SPCA could also guide you in the right direction.

Do I Need to Report a Dead or Injured Animal?

If it is a native animal that is seriously injured and you think it needs to be euthanised rather than rescued, contact the local police. If you’re unsure, the police or a wildlife rescue group can always make that judgement.

If the animal is a pet then you must contact the owner, police or the SPCA. Please don’t ever leave someone’s beloved furry family member behind without finding someone to hand it over to.

Does Car Insurance Cover Hitting Animals?

Yes, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover you when you hit an animal. No, hitting an animal is not considered an at fault accident. However, different insurers treat this situation differently when it comes to excess. Some will still charge you the excess to repair your car, others won’t.

If you hit livestock, you’ll need to claim on your own insurance but check the relevant laws in your area.

How to Avoid Hitting Animals While Driving

Several species of New Zealand fauna are very active at dusk and dawn, so when driving at this time of the day it’s best to slow down and be aware.

Even in built up urban areas, deer and wallabies will gather on the sides of roads. If you see one, there’ll likely be many others. Beep your horn sharply to scare them off. Don’t get out to shoo away healthy, hefty animals.

Importantly, pay attention to road signs signalling areas with high wildlife populations and crossings, and report livestock on roads to the police.

Emergency Car Supplies

Just as we should have a human first aid kit in our car, consider keeping simple animal aid supplies handy. Be mindful that unconscious animals may rouse and become distressed if you put them in your car. You don’t need a terrified kakapo trying to scratch his way out while you try to get him to safety.

An animal first aid kit could include:

  • A few old towels or a big old blanket to wrap them in and keep them calm
  • A small foldable box or collapsible carrier, handy for small to medium animals
  • Fluids in small and large bottles, to help keep them hydrated
  • A torch to help you see properly during the night or early morning
  • Bandages to stem any blood flow
  • Hardy gloves for handling any bite-y, claw-y or scratch-y animals (including birds)

Other Important ‘Just In Case’ Preparation

Hitting an animal can be a distressing experience. Planning ahead for ‘just in case’, keeping aware on the road and taking extra care at particular times of day will help you reduce the likelihood of it ever happening.

It is also important to be prepared in case your own animal is hit by a car in future. Pet insurance will cover a range of medical costs that may arise when your furry, feathered, hairy or scaly friend gets into a bingle.

Dotsure recognises the importance of covering your pet for this situation – that’s why we have no waiting period for accidents, protecting your pet from day one. Why not get an online quote with us and find out more about how you can safeguard your pet’s life?

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