You too could hit a cow

Drivers have to be attentive to more than the risks posed by other vehicles and road users, but also be alert to the dangers of animals on the road. 

Animal distractions are risks brought about by a variety of animals - from tortoises, cats, dogs and even birds to large cattle, donkeys and antelope such as kudu.  Insects have even been recorded to take their toll! Apart from the tragic forfeiture of wildlife, hitting an animal could result in  broken headlights, dented bonnets, injuries and even fatalities (on either the human or beast side). 

Most likely victims.

On the open road, you’ll likely see roadkill in one form or another. Cattle, donkeys and antelope species are the type of animal which pose the most danger to drivers and passengers. Once hit, they can roll onto the bonnet and into the windshield or roof, resulting in extensive damage and serious or fatal injury because of their weight and hooves.

Here are a few reasons why they often become roadkill:

  • Their large population;
  • The fact they move around during times when they’re hardest to see (before sunrise, dusk and after sunset) – and due to their height, their eyes are above most headlight beams;
  • Their affection for roadside puddles and pieces of land that haven’t been foraged by other livestock;
  • Their unfortunate instinct to dart erratically or freeze when faced with oncoming headlights.

Besides driving more cautiously during twilight hours, remember to stay conscious of the fact that, if you’ve seen one cow or kudu, it’s likely there are more nearby you haven’t seen.

If a crash is imminent.

Coming upon an animal in your path can be a shock and, while the appropriate reactions seem obvious in hindsight, handling the situation behind the wheel requires a cool head. Here’s how you can handle it:

  • Don’t swerve. Most severe crashes involving an animal occur when the driver veers out of their lane, and hits something else instead. What’s more, you can’t predict in which direction the fleeing animal will run – so you might hit it in any case.
  • Brake in a straight line. The only thing worse than swerving, is swerving with locked up tyres. Keeping a straight-line trajectory while you hit the brakes will allow you to reduce speed quickly, then – if it still hasn’t moved and you’ve reached a safe speed – you can steer around the animal.
  • Drop your high beams. Headlights on high beam will only blind the animal, causing it to freeze.
  • Use your hooter. This may scare the animal off. However, if a crash is imminent, keep your hand away from the hooter as a deploying airbag can break your arm and/or send it flying into your face!

The best course of action in most cases is to apply the brakes but keep your current course.  Hitting the animal is likely to be far less dangerous than performing evasive action, and the safety of you, your passengers and surrounding vehicles is paramount.

After the accident.

Unfortunately, anything that doesn’t immediately run away after a collision is unlikely to survive. After you’ve ensured you and your passengers are fine, you’ll have to report the accident to the police and your insurance company. Notify any relevant authorities (for example, if you were in a national park). If the animal is dead, and it is safe and necessary to move it to avoid future accidents, it is important to take a photograph of the scene before doing so.

Truck drivers: how to avoid adding to the roadkill count.

Unfortunately, most of the recommended techniques for avoiding animal collisions are impractical or inapplicable for anyone who drives a truck as part of their business. Staying off the roads at dawn and dusk, or having a passenger act as ‘beast-spotter’, isn’t always possible for truck drivers. This is especially unfortunate since a truck’s larger size, reduced manoeuvrability and increased stopping distance make it harder to avoid any rogue animals.

Sufficient business insurance will ensure that, in the event that your truck or other business vehicle is damaged in a collision, your business will keep moving.

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