Wildlife Collisions: What to Do If You Hit an Animal on the Road (And How to Avoid It If Possible)

By Gail Balfour
A Beward of Moose sign on the side of a road in Algonquin Park in the fall.

Canada is known for its natural beauty, its mountains and forests, and its plentiful wildlife. And, unfortunately, it is also a place where collisions involving large animals are reported every year -- 14,000 in Ontario annually, according to the Ontario Provincial Police. That’s the most in Canada.

Dawn and dusk is often a time when wildlife is more likely to be seen on the roadside. Not only that, but heading into winter, driving conditions can impede visibility and the ability to stop suddenly. And the salt used to melt ice on the road can attract some larger animals who seek it out for its mineral content.

It’s a good time to brush up on some safety tips and precautions, and make sure you have the right car insurance to protect you, especially if you tend to commute through areas where wildlife roams.

Tips to avoid a wildlife collision

The best course of action is to avoid hitting a large animal with your vehicle in the first place. Make sure to slow down in wildlife-inhabited areas, especially where signs are posted, and mentally prepare your reaction to different potential scenarios before they happen, just in case.

Be on the alert for wildlife at all times. According to the Wildlife Roadsharing Resource Centre (WRRC), the most likely situations for collisions with animals are:

  • Driving one hour before and after dusk and dawn
  • In October and November
  • On two-lane highways at speeds of 80 km/h or more

Here are 15 ways to minimize your risk:

  • Plan your travel to avoid the above times and situations, if possible.
  • When you see wildlife, immediately scan the environment for other animals as many travel in groups.
  • Be particularly careful at the ends of fences as this is where many animals cross a road.
  • Be cautious of wildlife standing alongside roads. They can bolt at any moment if frightened.
  • Drive defensively. Other drivers may not know how to react to wildlife on the road and could swerve into you.
  • Scan your surroundings constantly. Watch for movement and, at night, for the reflective glow in the eyes of some animals.
  • Watch for other vehicles pulled over or that suddenly slow down. Other drivers have spotted wildlife that you are not yet able to see.
  • Ask passengers to watch for wildlife and give specific observations such as, “deer on the left”.
  • Do not drive fatigued, impaired, or distracted.
  • Do not speed in wildlife areas and try to drive at the lower end of the speed limit or just below the limit, if it is safe to do so.
  • Do not rely on roadside fencing to protect you. Some animals can jump over or crawl under fences.
  • Do not litter as this attracts animals to the roadside.
  • If an animal appears on the road ahead, slow down or stop if necessary and safe. Turn on your hazards as an alert to other drivers.
  • If an animal has crossed the road without incident, be ready in case they turn around.

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What to do if you’ve hit an animal

If you can’t stop a collision from happening, your No. 1 priority is to keep yourself, your passengers and other drivers safe. Don’t swerve into oncoming traffic.

Try to drive toward the spot the animal comes from, not where it is going. Brake firmly and quickly, then steer your vehicle in a way that you will strike the animal at an angle. Letting up on the brake just before you hit the animal will reduce the chances of it coming through your windshield.

Despite your best efforts, if you find yourself in a collision with an animal, the WRRC offers the following tips:

  • Pull over to a safe location, out of the way of oncoming vehicles, and turn on your hazards.
  • Call 911 if you or any of your passengers are injured.
  • Take the time needed to calm down and clear your head so that you can assess the situation – hitting an animal can be traumatic.
  • Never touch an injured animal, even if it seems harmless. It's hurt and scared, which may be a dangerous combination.
  • Call the local police if the animal is blocking traffic or is creating a hazard for other drivers. If it is safe to do so, set out roadside reflectors or flares if you have them.
  • If your car is unsafe to drive, call for a tow. Look for broken lights, leaking fluids or anything that could make driving your vehicle dangerous.

How insurance providers handle wildlife collisions

What kind of insurance will cover damage to your car if you hit an animal? Will you be covered for the repair costs for this type of collision or will you be left to pick up the bill?

A collision with a large animal can cause a considerable amount of damage to your car. If you purchased the optional collision and comprehensive coverage when you got your policy, the costs for the damage would likely be covered. Collision coverage provides protection if your car is damaged in an accident, while comprehensive provides coverage for non-accident-related damage claims: both have a deductible.

Which coverage applies, however, will depend on the nature of the collision:

  • Scenario 1: If a deer was lying dead in the roadway from a previous collision, but you happened to hit it, your collision coverage will likely apply as there’s an expectation that you should have seen it in time to react and safely avoid the resulting accident.
  • Scenario 2: If a deer should suddenly run onto the road and you hit it, there would be little you could do to avoid it. Therefore, your comprehensive coverage would typically apply.

Remember, these are both optional types of coverage, so make sure to opt-in to the right coverage to protect yourself from an unexpected wildlife collision.

Does hitting an animal affect auto insurance rates?

Usually no, but it depends on your province or territory and the car insurance company. Hitting an animal is generally considered a not-at-fault accident and will be paid for under your comprehensive policy. So, it won’t affect your rates unless you make several claims around the same time.

But if it’s considered a collision — for example, if you swerve away from the deer and hit another car — your car insurance rate could go up. Talk to your broker and make sure you know your coverage and options.