You just got into a collision with a critter. Now what?
Following a nice springtime drive, you’re heading home as dusk falls when you spot two bright spots hovering above the road in front of you. Realizing that you are quite literally seeing a deer in your headlights, you hit the brakes, but it’s too late.
Every year, there are nearly 2 million animal-vehicle accidents in the US. Accidents involving a deer or other large animal can injure riders and do serious damage to your vehicle. “I live in Utah, and we’ve dealt with this all of my life,” says Michelle Chatwin, a AAA sales and service representative located in Clearfield, Utah.
Unfortunately, wildlife don’t generally carry liability coverage, so any damages will be your responsibility. If you hit an animal, only comprehensive insurance may cover your loss. “If an animal strikes, it’s what’s called an act of God or act of nature,” Chatwin explains. “You didn’t run into that animal on purpose, so it won’t impact your premium.” But if, say, you were to swerve to avoid an animal and then hit a telephone pole, that would be considered a collision, because you ran into it.
What To Do If You Hit a Deer (or a Moose, or a Bear)
- Move your vehicle off the road for safety and turn on your hazard lights.
- Call the police.
- If the animal is injured and remains in the road, stay in your vehicle and call animal control. An injured animal’s behavior can be unpredictable.
- If there are witnesses, get their contact information and ask them to share what they saw with the police.
- Take pictures of any visible car damage as well as any injuries to you or your passengers. Snap shots of any evidence that an animal was involved, such as blood or fur on the vehicle.
- Call for a tow if needed. A tow will be covered if you have roadside assistance or comprehensive coverage.
What To Do If You Hit a Dog or Other Smaller Animal
Hitting a dog or some other pet will most likely be an emotional experience, but don’t split the scene. If you get caught after leaving an injured dog, you could be cited for animal cruelty. Here’s what to do instead if you find yourself in this situation:
- Move the dog from the road, but first, protect yourself against bites. Use a towel or jacket to muzzle the animal before attempting to move it.
- Contact animal protective services if the dog is too aggressive to handle safely.
- Call the nearest veterinary clinic to give them a heads-up that the dog is on its way.
- Try to contact the dog’s owner. First as common courtesy, but also because the owner might be responsible for any veterinary costs dependent upon who’s at fault.
- If there’s any damage to your car and the dog was unrestrained, talk to the dog’s owner. In such a case, the pet owner might be liable for vehicle damage. In other cases, damage could be covered under your comprehensive insurance policy.
Keep in mind that even small animals can wreak havoc on your vehicle, as Chatwin discovered firsthand. “My son ran over a raccoon and it took out the underside of the oil pan protector,” she recalls. “He said, ‘It was just big.’” During the pandemic—when many vehicles are parked for days on end—it’s become more common for critters like rats to set up camp in engine compartments, sometimes chewing on wires. If you have comprehensive insurance, you’ll be covered for these types of damage, once your deductible is paid.
Tips for Avoiding Animal-Vehicle Crashes
- Go Slow: Observe the speed limit so you can brake quickly if an animal darts onto the road.
- Flick on Your Brights: Your high-beam headlights will help you more quickly spot wildlife on the road ahead.
- Keep an Eye Out: When you’re driving through areas rich with wildlife, be on the lookout for tell-tale glowing eyes at night and ask your passengers to do the same.
- Warn Wildlife: If you spot an animal in the road as you approach, flash your headlights and honk your horn to scare it away.
Did You Know … ? Deer don’t always see things the way we do. Research shows that deer mostly notice movement from side-to-side across their field of view. They may not perceive an oncoming car—which simply appears to be getting larger—as moving toward them.