Traffic accidents involving animals

Traffic accidents involving animals are very common - here's what to do if you're ever in an accident with a deer, dog or cat

Amy Smith
Updated 08 November 2019 | 3 min read

Traffic accidents involving animals

Pets and wildlife commonly stray onto UK roads causing traffic accidents and injuries that could result in a car insurance claim.

If your route takes you where natural habitats have been disturbed by building work, through residential areas, or near forests, you must be vigilant for large or small animals unexpectedly crossing your path.

Deers, for example, stray onto UK roads and cause traffic accidents more than 200 times every day, according to BBC News and Highways England.

If animals might try to the cross the road in your area, we've got all the info about how to avoid an accident.

If you're unlucky and you do hit an animal, we can help you handle the aftermath, tell you what the law requires you to do, plus what your insurer needs to know.

Key points

  • By law, you’re required to tell the police if you’ve hit a horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog
  • If you hit any animal and it's obstructing a road or highway, it's worth reporting it to the police.
  • If the animal is likely to be someone's pet they should be taken to a vet so it can be scanned for a microchip
  • If you see a dead animal by the roadside, you can contact your local council

How does hitting an animal affect insurance?

Most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover you if you hit a deer or other animal while driving.

To make a claim you'll need to provide proof of the accident, including photographs, witness statements and a police report if applicable.

Animals to stop for by law

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, you legally have to report the hitting of a horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog.

Currently, the Road Traffic Act 1988 doesn’t apply to deer, cats, badgers or foxes.

Colliding with a deer

Hitting a deer could do a lot of damage to you and your car.

You’re more likely to see deer from sunset to midnight and around sunrise. They’re more likely to stray into the road during the rutting season in October and November, and when the deer look for new territories in May.

You’re not legally required to report hitting a deer, but you should report the accident to those who can help it, like the police (999) or the RSPCA (0300 1234 999).

If your car is damaged or you’re injured, record the evidence, get the details of witnesses and contact your insurer.

Knocking over a dog

If a dog runs out into the road, legally the dog owner is responsible. If it's off the lead and strays into the road, it's not your fault.

You are lawfully obliged to report that accident, however, so stop where it's safe to do so and call the police.

If the dog has survived the collision, it'll be in distress and so should not be moved or handed without careful consideration and advice from a vet or animal professional.

If you have spare blankets in the car, you could offer them to the owner to help keep the dog comfortable while you're waiting for the police and vets.

Cats in traffic accidents

According to Vets Now, autumn is peak season for traffic accidents involving cats.

You don’t legally have to report hitting a cat to the police.

However, if it’s killed or injured, taking the cat to a local vet is the right thing to do. Most pet cats are microchipped, so informing a vet could help to find its owners.

How to avoid a collision with an animal

According to The Highway Code, you can stop or swerve if an animal’s on the road, so long as it’s not dangerous for other motorists.

Here are a few safe ways to minimise your chances of hitting an animal:

  • It goes without saying, but drive carefully
  • Look out for animal and road speed signs
  • Use full beam headlights when there’s no approaching traffic for better visibility at night
  • Dip your lights if you see an animal as bright lights can startle it
  • Don’t over-swerve - check for oncoming traffic
  • Be aware of cars behind you when braking

What to do if you hit an animal

In the event of an accident involving an animal, here's what you should do:

  1. Stop and park in a safe place with your hazard lights on
  2. Inform the police
  3. Call an ambulance if people were hurt in the accident (and the RSPCA if the animal is hurt)
  4. Take photos of any damage caused for evidence
  5. Provide your insurance details to witnesses
  6. Contact your insurer

What the RSPCA say

Adam Grogan, Head of Wildlife at the RSPCA says:

“Each year the RSPCA receives and attends several thousand calls regarding road traffic accidents involving deer. As a result of this, we always urge people to be cautious when driving in an area with known wildlife nearby and pay heed to warning signs indicating that wild animals may be around. If you do hit an animal while driving, we would advise people to stop and check (if it’s safe to do so), as the animal may be more seriously injured than they appear."

"If you find an injured wild animal, contact the RSPCA’s 24 hour emergency line on 0300 1234 999 for further advice on what to do. Always report any deer-vehicle collisions to the police and try to remember to record any deer-vehicle incidents at Deer Aware".

"Animals can scratch and bite when frightened, particularly if they are injured, so be cautious and apply common sense. Please do not try to handle or transport any injured deer, foxes, badgers, otters, swans, geese or birds of prey; keep a safe distance from them and call our emergency line for assistance. Always wear gloves when handling all other animals and please take them to a vet for treatment where possible. We also urge people to take care in dangerous locations, like a busy road, and ask people to always report any animal obstructing a highway to the police and call for help if you can't reach the animal safely."

"Find out more about what to do if you find an injured wild animal on the RSPCA website".

What Highways England say

Richard Leonard, Head of Road Safety at Highways England, the Government company responsible for motorways and major A roads in England, said:

“We urge drivers to look out for animal warning signs which let you know that animals are known to be about in the area, or likely to be roaming across the road."

"You may be well-travelled and on a known route where you’ve never seen an animal before – but there may one in nearby foliage or woodlands."

"We want everyone to reach their destination safely – so my top tip is if you see an animal warning signs slow down, remain vigilant and keep your distance.”

Reporting an injured animal

If you find an injured animal by the roadside, you can report it to the RSPCA in England and Wales or the equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, whether you’re the driver who hit it or not.

  • RSPCA
    Telephone: 0300 1234 999
  • Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
    Telephone: 03000 999 999
  • Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA)
    Telephone: 028 3025 1000

To report any dead animals you find on the side of the road, contact your local council.

Animal road accidents infographic

New research*, commissioned by GoCompare Car Insurance, reveals that over half of all drivers have either hit or had a near miss on the road with an animal, and 68% admit they wouldn’t know what to do if they hit a larger animal, such as a deer or a badger, while driving.

News and articles

*On 13 December 2019, Bilendi conducted an online survey among 2,000 randomly selected British adults who are Maximiles UK panellists. The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/-2.2%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and regional data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of United Kingdom.Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

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