Road Safety and Avoiding Animals on the Road
Road users have to be attentive to more than the risks posed by other road users. They also have to be alert to the dangers of animals on the road. As urban areas continue to push outward and displace animals from their natural habitats and as traffic continues to increase every year, collisions between cars and the animals seem an almost inevitable consequence.
As we drive outside our urban areas we often see roadkill - animals that have been killed by passing traffic. We might even have had the unfortunate experience of striking a large animal ourselves. Road collisions kill and maim wildlife, pets and humans, and result in millions of rand in insurance claims. These incidents are however mostly under-reported. When a driver swerves or stops to avoid hitting an animal, the resulting mishap is mostly not recorded as a collision with an animal.
Animal distractions and risks are brought about by a variety of animals, from small cats, dogs and even birds to the large cattle, donkeys, and antelope such as kudu. Even insects have been recorded to take their toll!
Tips for motorists
There is no foolproof way to keep animals away from the roads. Hoofed mammals that stand high on their legs, such as cattle, horses and antelope such as kudu pose the most danger to vehicle occupants. If they are hit they can roll onto the bonnet and into the windshield or roof, resulting in extensive damage and serious or fatal injury. Due to their height, their eyes are above most headlight beams.
There are a few suggestions that could assist in protecting motorists:
- Take special care near animal crossing warning signs or signs warning of the absence of fences. The signs are there for a reason.
- Minimize your distractions from passengers, food, and accessories like cell phones. If your full attention is on the road, you'll be more likely to spot approaching animals with your peripheral vision.
- Get in the habit of scanning the roadside as you drive.
- Vigilance is the first and best defence, especially when driving on unfamiliar rural roads. Ask passengers to help by scanning both sides of the roadway.
- If you see one animal, expect that there are others nearby.
- Use your high beams whenever possible. They will give you more time to spot and react to animals on the road.
- Always obey the speed limit and wear safety belts
- To protect themselves, defensive drivers adapt their speed to conditions and keep alert for wildlife.
- Slowing down a little gives you and the animal more time to react – Be especially cautious at night
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Be especially watchful in areas near woods and water
- If you see a large animal near the road and think you have time to avoid hitting it, reduce your speed, tap your brakes to warn other drivers and sound your horn.
- If the animal is in your path, brake firmly but do not swerve to avoid it. Sound your horn in a series of short bursts to frighten it away. Provided you can slow down with control, steer around the animal but stay on the road if possible. Watch out for oncoming traffic.
- If a collision seems inevitable, don't swerve to avoid the animal; your risk of injury may be greater if you do. Maintain control of the vehicle. Report the accident to the police and your insurance company.
- Always consider if the land along the road could host large animals and if you think it could, anticipate that they might run out into the road. It's much easier to anticipate animal encounters and be ready to react calmly than to deal with the costly expenses, injuries, and guilty conscience of a collision.
Even though the behaviour of animals might be unpredictable, there is much safer to be found in preventative measures and community involvement. It is required that farmers and landowners adequately protect road users by looking after fences and gates.
The following suggestions will enhance safety:
- Respect the importance of fences and warning signs next to the road
- Regularly inspect enclosures next to road
- If you are in control of the movement of cattle or sheep across or alongside roads – be attentive to the required regulations pertaining to warning flags etc
- When you lead a horse next to the road always keep yourself between it and the traffic.
- Make sure other road users can see you by day and night. Fit fluorescent/reflective leg bands to your horse and wear a fluorescent/reflective jacket.
- Do not let your pets out on their own. Keep the pet on a short lead when walking on the pavement, road or a cycle path and keep between the pet and the traffic.
- Make sure that your animals are safe.
- Do not take your animal somewhere that will frighten it.
Engineering and research solutions
- Wildlife researchers and safety officials are seeking better ways to protect motorists from wildlife and vice versa.
- In South Africa, a project is underway to add reflective tags to the ears of cattle in specific areas.
Despite all the interesting and scientific solutions it is important to remember that there is no substitute for the defensive driver. Road users should at all times be vigilant - expect the unexpected!