How to Avoid Hitting Animals While Driving (Without Putting Yourself In Danger)

When driving, how far would you go to avoid hitting an animal?

This week a novice driver in Utah was forced to answer that question when a raccoon suddenly appeared on the road. To avoid hitting the masked bandit, the 18-year old driver swerved which caused him to hit a cinder block wall and flip his car. Fortunately, he was wearing his seatbelt and walked away from the accident with only minor scrapes and bruises.

According to Lt. Craig Martinez of the Orem Police Department, the lucky raccoon was uninjured, but both the cinder block wall and car took a nasty beating.

In an interview later with KSL-TV, Lt Martinez used this incident to warn drivers to be wary of swerving in order to avoid animals or debris in the road. Swerving can be a matter of life and death. Martinez has seen the tragic consequences up close and personal. He recalled an accident that has stuck in his mind when he was working as a trooper. A man swerved to avoid hitting a ladder lying on the freeway. The sudden swerving caused the car to roll and the driver, who was ejected during the roll, later died from his injuries.

“If it’s too late, it’s too late,” Martinez warns. “I’ve explained to my kids that if something is in the road, and you didn’t see it a far enough distance away, just hit it. I’d rather pay for damage to a car than have someone get hurt.” Most experts agree with Lt Martinez that swerving to avoid hitting an animal is not advised. The American DMV website indeed warns that “you can suffer more ghastly consequences from an oncoming UPS delivery truck than from a leaping mule deer or skittering antelope. It is best to lock the brakes, jam the horn, and (if time allows) duck low behind the dashboard.”

Moose, however, are the one exception to the do-not-swerve rule. The DMV website warns that “an adult moose can grow to 1,600 pounds. Consequently, colliding with a moose is comparable to colliding with a compact vehicle on stilts, with the likelihood of fatal or long-term injuries to the front-seat occupants of your car. So if the situation allows, swerving for a moose is a defensive option.”

However, many of us have a very strong instinct to avoid causing harm to other living beings and when a moment’s judgement is required that instinct kicks in. Many variables must be weighed in that flash moment – how fast are we going, is there room to safely swerve, is there oncoming traffic, is the road icy, do we have other passengers in the car? To prepare for those questions ahead of an emergency situation, it is a good idea to consider them every time you get into the driver’s seat, especially in an area with significant wildlife.

Also, consider these tips from the DMV to avoid wildlife-car confrontations in the first place:

  • Slow down when you see yellow animal-crossing signs as the signify heavy animal traffic.
  • Dusk, dawn, and night are active times for wildlife. Deer are most often hit during dusk and dawn hours, while bears and moose are most often hit during the night.
  • Headlights typically illuminate 200 to 250 feet. To facilitate sufficient brake time, reduce driving speed to 45 mph at night and a maximum of 30 mph if roads are also icy.
  • Pay attention to shoulders. Animals that are startled may unfortunately suddenly flee by leaping right into the road.  If you spot an animal, slow down as you approach, and feel free to hit the horn as a warning.
  • During night time hours, keep a look-out for reflecting eyes.
  • Slow down if you spot a moose. These huge animals harbor a weird escape mechanism. Instead of slipping into forested cover, moose will gallop down the road ahead of your car for significant distances before finally veering off-road.
  • Deer, elk, and antelope are herd animals that move in groups. If you see one crossing, expect more to come.
  • Salt is a rare commodity to wildlife and they are attracted to it like mice to cheese.  So, newly salted roads may be less icy, but wildlife may be more numerous.
  • Deer whistles are questionably effective so do not be lulled into a false sense of security if you have one on your car. But occasional horn honking can prepare wildlife down the road that you are coming and give them time to safely move out of the way.


wildlife and car accidents


Do you have any other tips for avoiding animals on the road? Or stories about how you successfully avoided – or did not avoid – a collision with a animal. Every situation is different, but the more time spent considering the options and learning from other people’s success and or mistakes the more likely you are to avoid a bad outcome for either you or wandering wildlife when you get behind the wheel.


Elgin M.
Elgin Mehmetali3 years ago

The biggest problem on the roads today is distracted drivers. People really need to take more responsibility when driving. Driving lessons Bromley

Magdalena C.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

Past Member
Past Member 3 years ago

It is totally unique information; I really love reading this again and again. Thanks

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

I'm guilty of hitting the brakes and swerving for any animal. Even one as small as a squirrel or cat. I do it automatically. No time to think about it when they run out in front of you.

Magdalena J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you!

Bill Eagle
Bill E4 years ago

I would not want to hit any animals, and I would still try and avoid doing so if it is anyway possible.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber4 years ago

Live long and prosper!

Kent Udell
Kent Udell4 years ago

Good advice

Sarah G.
Sarah G4 years ago

I agree: slow down and pay attention to your surroundings!