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18 things to know about avoiding collisions with an animal while driving

It might be as big as a moose or as small as a mouse. No matter where you’re going, be ready. Ready for the unexpected animal in the road, that is. You need to be ready for a deer to jump out from the ditch, directly into your highway lane. Be ready to avoid rear-ending the car that’s suddenly stopped so a turtle can cross the road. Be ready for a turkey vulture to take flight into your windshield. How do I know that it’s important to be ready? All these things have happened to us as we’ve traveled in our RV.

So, what’s the best thing to do? Is there a sure-fire way to avoid hitting an animal without damaging your rig or, even worse, yourself? As you might have guessed, each situation is different. But each situation demands quick action. The action you take depends on many variables: time of day, roadway conditions, amount of traffic, and so much more!

There are a few general steps you can take to avoid damage to yourself and your rig. Just remember that every circumstance is different. With that in mind, let’s look at what several insurance companies suggest.

Be proactive

  • Watch your speed, especially during peak times of the day. Deer and other animals like to move during dusk and dawn. In cooler weather, snakes like to soak up the highway’s heat during the evening. Never speed, especially at night when visibility is greatly reduced.
  • Be aware of seasonal animal movements. Deer and elk rut (and are on the move) in mid-August to mid-October. You may encounter more of these animals during those times.
  • Consider your surroundings. If you are traveling through woods or areas of tall grass, you may not see an animal approaching the roadway. If you are driving curvy roads, be aware that potential trouble may be hidden around the bend. Decrease your speed if you safely can and be extra vigilant.
  • Pay attention to “Deer Crossing” and other animal warning signs. Many animals have adapted to living close to civilization. You can encounter these creatures when driving in the suburbs as well as along rural roads.
  • When there is no oncoming traffic, use your high beams, especially during dawn and dusk. High beams allow you to see further and potentially spot an animal on or near the road. This will give you time to decrease speed and take further appropriate action.
  • Ask passengers riding with you to help watch for animals – especially at night. Remember that many creatures’ eyes will reflect your headlight’s beam (like deer and elk). You may see an animal’s eyes well before noticing their bodies. However, this is not the case for moose! Their eyes do not reflect light. So be extra vigilant when traveling in moose territory.

Animals ahead

  • Safely slow down as soon as you see an animal on the road ahead. (Be careful not to brake so hard that your vehicle skids.) Use your trailer brakes to help slow down your rig, if applicable.
  • Put on your hazard flashers, if the state allows. This will give a “heads up” to drivers behind you and may also forewarn those approaching from the other direction.
  • Remain in your lane. In most cases, swerving to avoid the animal while maintaining even a reduced speed can mean disaster.
  • Generally, animals will continue to move along their chosen path. With that in mind, move slightly in the direction in which the animal was coming, if it is safe to do so. Then let them continue on their way.
  • If you see one animal, watch closely for more to follow. Deer and other creatures often travel in small groups. Do not resume speed until you are sure it’s safe.
  • If the animal remains in place on the roadway, come to a complete stop safely off the roadway.

If a collision is unavoidable, insurance providers have additional advice…

Oh, no!

  • Brace yourself for impact.
  • If there’s time, slide down in your vehicle’s seat so that the dashboard can somewhat protect you. Large animals like moose, wild donkey, and elk can easily crash through the windshield or crush your vehicle’s roof.
  • After impact, assess any injuries to people inside your vehicle. Call 911 for help, as needed.
  • If you can, drive your vehicle as far off the highway as possible. Keep emergency flashers on.
  • Stay in your vehicle. If you absolutely must exit, stay well away from the injured animal. Also, move in front of your rig as far away as possible. Call for help.
  • Contact your insurance company as soon as you can.

Ever hit an animal while driving your RV? Tell us about it in the comments below.

##RVDT1678

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Dean Sangrey
24 days ago

Additional proactive effort should include consideration to acquire appropriate front end protection (brush guard, protective bumper add-on) to minimize front end/body damage from collision impact.

Micheal Whelan
24 days ago

Over the years I worked a few strange vehicle and animal collisions. Motor cycle versus possum did not end well for possum, bike or rider who spent many weeks off work recovering. Another was car and trailer versus pig. That totaled all three and left the driver with multiple non life threatening injuries. One of the strangest (and sad) was a primo 1950 Ford F1 pickup versus very large black angus cow on black highway during a stormy dark night. The collision totaled the truck putting the engine partially into the cab, significant injuries to the driver who kept asking us what hit him (totally did not see the cow) and left the cow alive needing to be put down. Fortunately the majority of animal/vehicle accidents I worked caused little or minor injuries to the passengers but significant damage to the vehicle and unfortunately the animal. Be careful. These accidents will ruin your trip. Motorhomes, motorcycles, cars or trucks seldom do well when encountering an animal on the highway.

Lil John
27 days ago

Thank you for doing this report. Three animals in particular are really dangerous to hit. Elk, Moose and Horses. They will all continue over your vehicle if hit somewhat close to their middle. Had a horse travel the entire length of a students car after running on the freeway. The student did not survive. Be careful out there! ALSO . . . can’t believe putting on emergency flashers to warn other drivers is illegal anywhere. It’s a universal sign of danger that everyone knows. Going to use them when I’m slow, in every state.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
23 days ago
Reply to  Lil John

Sorry, it’s illegal to put on emergency flashers when your car is in motion in Florida. I used to run them during frog strangling rains you could barely see 10 feet in front of you. and I’d be driving about 10 mph on the superhighway An LEO and I discussed this and his suggestion for the blinding frog strangling rains was to pull off the shoulder and THEN put on your blinkers.

Sink Jaxon
27 days ago

Del Rio TX, we had just left the RV Park we were at with TT in tow, headed for Galveston, last November. The speed limit was 55 and had just looked in my rear view (semi about a half mile behind), looked down at the speedometer (saw I was at 50), looked up and a small deer running across the road! I probably hit it at 40, dead center on my bumper. Such a helpless feeling. Miraculously, the deer rolled off to the side of the road. I got the rig pulled safely off the road, walked back to the deer to make sure it wasn’t suffering. Picked up the air dam and some pieces from the middle of the road. It had bent in my bumper within a fraction of an inch of my A/C condenser and that was it! No other damage, lucky for us, not so for the deer. We drove on a short ways and found a parking lot where there was a sturdy light pole, took out the tow strap, wrapped it around the pole, hooked it to the bumper and pulled the bumper back out. Once home, I had new bumper AND a grill guard installed!

Warmonk
27 days ago

In these parts, British Columbia, the rut is usually from the first frost in October and doesn’t last long. Does protecting their fawns in the Spring cause more problems. I live in a community of just less than 5,000. If we counted the deer that live among us it would be closer to 6,000. The coyotes, bear, and cougar don’t add much to the count. On any given day, at any given time, I can look out the window and see deer. You don’t see the bear unless the plums are ripe or cougar unless they’re taking a nap or munching on a kill. Drivers around here just stop in their lane until they move off the road. It’s the tourists that don’t get it – they pull over to the side, put their flashers on and take pictures – causes a real mess. I had to stop last week on the highway for a bear in the middle of the road. The two cars behind me never questioned my stopping. Soon enough the bear made up his mind and we all went on our way. It’s life. Just drive with your eyes open. Everybody will be fine.

Diane Mc
27 days ago

In Wyoming, a “bird” hit the front of the motorhome. When we stopped didn’t see any damage. When we get home (CA!) our kitty is sitting at the front of the motorhome. I could see some “fluid”. Look underneath, a pool of something. Got my husband. Opens hatch door. There is a dead pheasant😱. The weather had been very cold, beginning of June. It had been snowing. Don’t know if it didn’t thaw out until we got closer to home or what. Never smelled anything. Never had anyone at RV parks we stayed at, mention it.

Irv
27 days ago

A large bird flew up from a small ditch along the road into our path and dropped a small animal on my windshield which bounced off without doing damage. It all happened so fast that’s all I know. Probably only doing 50 mph on a country road.

Tommy Molnar
27 days ago

Not driving in the dark is the biggest thing. Plus, animals have no idea what horn noise is. Being lucky also helps. On a trip in Montana a few years back we were on a two-lane and cruising at my usual 55-60 mph when a bear ROCKETED out of the woods and shot across our path maybe 50 yards ahead. By the time he was across the road and gone, I barely had time to take my foot off the throttle. Just that fast.

Lori
26 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Amen.

Christine
27 days ago

This is very helpful information. One thing – I’m not sure I agree with sliding down in the seat to let to dash protect. As an ER nurse with specialized training in trauma, we learned that in a front end collision, front seat passengers are likely to hit knees on the interior of the vehicle, potentially causing femur fractures. If your knees are even closer to the car interior, I would think femur injuries could be even more likely. Just a thought.

Randall Davis
27 days ago

We turn on our fog lights to help illuminate the sides of the road when driving at night. Of course, high beams if no oncoming traffic.

Bob p
27 days ago

I will agree with most of the tips, however the “rut” takes place at much different times than was stated, your timeline applies mainly north of the Mason-Dixon Line, here in the south it comes much later. The statement about steer behind the path the animal is taking is not necessarily true, if your headlights are impairing the animals vision it’s going to turn around and go back where it came from since it can’t see going forward but it knows it was safe where it came from. This is from observations of driving and not from an insurance analyst.

Dennis
24 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

Bob- I agree with you. Though luckily I’ve never had to test this assumption up to the point of potential impact. My plan is to steer right at the animal, horn on and beams flashing. The critter is either going to stay put or move. If they move, they are just as likely to turn tail as to go forward, but hopefully move somewhere other than where they are at. Guessing on which direction only give the driver a 50/50 chance of avoidance.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
23 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

.My experience with a lot of latenight driving and the deer, squirrell, rabbit, armidillo or turkey crossing the road- even if they are 1/2, 3/4, or 7/8 of the way across the road is they will SUDDENLY TURN AROUND AND DASH BACK THE WAY THEY CAME FROM!!! Why, I have no idea. Maybe they assign the unknown vehicle rushing at them as something that might follow them across the road? and they think if they go back where they were they’ll be able to hide better??

Richard Hughes
27 days ago

When I see an animal approaching the road, I give short beeps on the horn several seconds apart. This warns the animal and gives them a reference of your position. A continuous blast of a horn echos off the surrounding area and disorients the animal. At night, if I know deer, etc are around, I will beep as I drive through the area. The animals will usually turn and run away. However, if you see a deer, already on the pavement, don’t honk because it will startle it causing it to slip and fall. Also, headlights will blind the deer causing them to freeze in place, so reduced speed and watchful eyes are the best defense.

volnavy007
27 days ago

Hit one of a pair of little deers that crossed in front on a back road, almost avoided it. Hit an adult deer on an interstate while I was doing 75 mph. The semi behind us when it happened pulled over to the side with us to check that we were OK and thank me for NOT slamming on the brakes.

Dave
27 days ago

Just drove away from the body shop last week. $4600.00 of front end damage. It was two legged animal that caused the mess. Seems he forgot to tie down the bucket seats he just bought. He never slowed down, never looked back.

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