Road Traffic Accidents involving animals
Who doesn’t love animals? The last few years have witnessed somewhat of a rise in “pet-culture” especially when it comes to dogs. You can take your canine friend into countless venues across the country and you are probably never too far away from a “cat cafe” or similar establishment where you can socialise with some of the domestic animal kingdom. Several of my friends openly confess to being more distressed when animals are killed in a movie than an actual human character!
That is why, if we are ever unlucky enough to hit an animal in our vehicle, we generally find it quite distressing.
While most incidents of road kill are accidental, some stem from careless or dangerous driving, and we get a lot of enquiries (unfortunately) from motorists who aren’t sure what their legal responsibilities are, particularly when it comes to hitting deer. Are you legally obliged to stop? Are you liable for prosecution if you do not report the incident to the police? Hopefully this will help clarify why you should do in the event of an accident involving an animal.
All motorists have a duty to stop after an accident by which ‘damage is caused to an animal’ (except when the animal is in the vehicle).
The driver must stop and give his name and address to a “relevant party” if required. If this is not possible, the accident must be reported to the police as soon as possible or within 24 hours.
‘Animal’ refers to horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog (poor cats!). Accidents involving other animals such as deer, badgers, foxes, rabbits and pheasants do not need to be reported.
If a driver does comply, then they can be prosecuted and face a penalty between 5 and 10 points in addition to a fine and court costs. In certain circumstances, the penalty could be more severe. If there are any witnesses to poor driving, then charges of careless or dangerous driving may be brought and the death of the animal used as an aggravating factor.
Collisions involving deer are particularly frequent and statistics show that the toll of deer involved annually in vehicle collisions in the UK is estimated to be between 42,000 to 74,000. Such deer related accidents result in over 450 human injuries and several human fatalities every year.
The Deer Act 1991 prohibits the taking or killing of deer unless it is done for the purpose of preventing the suffering of an injured deer. Many police forces around the country have Deer Wardens as a way to help keep the roads safe while also treating animals injured in collisions. You should report an accident involving a deer by telephoning the police on 101 so that a Deer Warden can attend and take care of any injuries or, if necessary put the animal down.
Unfortunately for deer, it would be unwise for drivers to actively swerve to try and avoid a collision. Doing so may result in losing control and colliding with another vehicle or property. If this happens, formal charges would more than likely be brought and it may be very difficult for you to prove that the deer was ever there in the first place. We would suggest the following pointers:
- Take note of deer warning signs and drive with caution
- The main national peaks in deer related traffic collisions occur during May, followed by mid October through December. Highest-risk periods are at night-time.
- Be aware that further deer may well cross after the ones you have noticed .
- After dark, use full-beam headlights when there is no opposing traffic. The headlight beam will illuminate the eyes of deer and provide greater driver reaction time. However, when a deer is noted on the road, dim your headlights as animals startled by the beam may ‘freeze’ instead of leaving the road.
- Do not over swerve to avoid hitting a deer. If a collision with the animal seems inevitable, then hit it while maintaining full control of your car. The alternative of swerving into oncoming traffic or a ditch could be even worse.
- Only break sharply and stop if there is no danger of being hit by following traffic. Try to come to a stop as far in front of the animals as possible to enable it to leave the roadside without panic.
- Report any deer-vehicle collisions to the police who should be able to contact the local person best placed to assist with an injured deer at the roadside.