With our long stretches of roads and massive land mass, Australia could’ve been created just for driving. There are about 19.5 million cars on our continent – and growing. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the impact this might have on the animals who share our space. That’s why it’s important to know what to do when you hit an animal while driving.
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 Australian households than not, the likelihood of injury by car is a real concern.
So, what steps do you take if you accidentally hit an animal on the road?
Bushfires are unfortunately a part of the Australian summer, and not uncommon during other seasons, putting homes and lives at great risk. There is a real risk to animal lives too – fires often result in a significant loss of habitat for our native wildlife.
Sadly, every year more of these habitats are lost to either bushfires or land clearing. Australian animals find themselves homeless as the pockets of bushland they call home dwindle.
If koalas, kangaroos, wombats, possums, wallabies, bandicoots, bush turkeys, etc, don’t have access to the right trees, food or water, they’ll travel to find them. This often means crossing busy roads and highways. And as their habitats are often on the city fringes, this means higher speed limits and…. well, we all know the outcome.
All Kinds of Animals at Risk
A 2008 study found that one in five car accidents in rural areas involve livestock or wildlife. This doesn’t even take into account ‘near misses’ where a vehicle swerved to avoid an animal. You can only imagine how that number has risen over time as areas become more built up.
The vast majority of the animals hit are kangaroos and wallabies. However, farm animals such as horses, cattle, sheep 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 Australia means an increased risk of hitting one when you’re on the road.
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, remove it from the road. This will eliminate the hazard for other drivers. Be extra cautious with native animals such as kangaroos, wallabies or wombats 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, a vet or 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 bat (flying foxes or microbats) unless you have the training and current vaccinations against Australian Bat Lyssavirus.
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 wildlife and domestic animals. You won’t be charged.
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 the local, state or territory wildlife rescue group. This might be:
Or, it could be another organisation in your area. The RSPCA has a handy printable list of contact numbers for each state/territory on its website.
Do I Need to Report a Dead or Injured Animal?
One question that will likely spring to mind when you’re wondering ‘what to do if you hit an animal while driving’ is ‘do I need to report it?’ 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. Otherwise, if you’re unsure, the police or a wildlife rescue group can always make that judgement.
If the animal is a pet, you must contact the owner, police or the RSPCA. Please don’t ever leave someone’s beloved furry family member behind without finding someone to hand it over to.
Does Insurance Cover Hitting an Animal?
Yes, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover you when you hit an animal. 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 state laws. In all states except Queensland, owners are liable for their livestock. In Queensland, livestock is still deemed to have “right of way” on a road. Seriously.
Hitting bigger animals such as kangaroos and large dogs can cause significant damage to your car and you may not be able to drive it afterwards. It makes sense to have full comprehensive insurance before you drive on any road. Need a quote? We can help you find ways to save on your next premium.
If you can’t drive your car then call your insurance company to organise a tow to their workshop or depot, or to your local mechanic. Be sure to keep the receipts if they charge you on the spot and arrange for a hire car, again keeping receipts if your insurance policy has a hire car option.
How to Avoid Hitting Animals While Driving
Australian 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, kangaroos will gather on the sides of roads. Perhaps they enjoy a touch of car spotting? Or perhaps it’s because they know they have sheer strength on their side. YouTube shows this to be the truth – watch this video to see the kangaroo intimidation tactic at work.
If you see an animal near the road, there’ll likely be many others. Beep your horn to scare them off. Don’t get out to shoo away healthy, hefty animals, especially roos.
Importantly, pay attention to road signs signalling areas with high wildlife populations and crossings, and report livestock on roads to the police.
Just in Case 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 wombat 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)
- Hand sanitiser to wash away potentially harmful germs from your skin
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.
If the worst does happen, we’ll look after you. Why not compare us with your current insurer today?
Over to You – What To Do if You Hit an Animal While Driving
Have you ever hit an animal and helped it? Or maybe you have a story about an animal you rescued from the roadside. Let us know in the comments below.