Date Published: 2023/05/04

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Sharing the road with wildlife: Tips for avoiding collisions with animals

Two deer crossing a two-lane highway in the morning. The sun is shining through the misty morning air, making the deer hard to see.

Spring is a beautiful time of year in Canada, with flowers blooming, trees turning green and wildlife becoming more active after a long winter. With the increase in animal activity this time of year, there is also an increased risk of hitting wildlife when driving. As the snow melts and the temperature rises, animals start moving around more — looking for food, water, and mates. As drivers, it’s important to learn how to reduce our risk of colliding with wildlife and understand how this type of accident could impact our auto insurance. 

Wildlife collisions by the numbers

  • There are 4 to 8 large animal vehicle collisions every hour in Canada.1
  • Collisions with wildlife cost Canadians approximately $800 million annually.2
  • In Ontario alone, there are an estimated 14,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions a year — representing 5 to 10% of all accidents.2
  • 80% of wildlife-vehicle collisions involve deer. Moose, elk, bears, coyotes and other wildlife make up the remaining 20%.3

Where and when wildlife-vehicle collisions happen

Collisions with animals can happen anywhere. However, there are common factors behind where the majority of car accidents involving a wildlife-vehicle collision happen:

  • Long stretches of road in rural areas — 89% of wildlife collisions occur on two-lane roads outside of urban areas.4
  • Close to forests, grasslands, waterways and other indicators of good natural habitat.
  • Intersections where wildlife cross, migrate or feed.

Animal-related crashes are most likely to occur at times when animals are more active, especially during mating and migration seasons. For Canadian wildlife, peak collision times include:

  • 7 pm to midnight.
  • Dawn and dusk hours.
  • Spring (May and June) and Fall (October through January). 

How to reduce your risk of collisions with animals

Animals don't always act the way we expect them to. It’s not always possible to avoid a collision if one suddenly runs in front of your vehicle. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting into an accident with an animal on the road.

1. Pay attention. Always stay alert while driving and look for signs of wildlife crossings like:

  • signs warning of wildlife in the area
  • animal tracks
  • carcasses on the side of the road

Some animals (such as deer and bears) travel in groups, so if you spot one keep an eye out for others wandering nearby.

2. Use your high beams. When driving in areas with limited lighting, use your high beams to help you see wildlife from a greater distance. 

3. Watch for shining eyes. Animals' eyes reflect light. When driving at night, scan the road for glowing eyes as a warning sign that an animal is about to cross.

4. Slow down. Reduce your speed while driving through areas with high wildlife activity. This will give you more time to react and avoid a collision. If you do spot an animal, slow down, and come to a stop if it’s safe to do so. Keep a safe distance from the animal while you wait for it to cross the road. Turn on your hazard lights so other drivers know you’re slowing down or stopping.

What to do if you can't avoid a collision with an animal

If you encounter an animal on the road and you're too close to avoid hitting it, it's important to know what steps to take to keep yourself as safe as possible.

1. Don’t panic. Stay calm and in control of your vehicle.

2. Check your rearview mirror. Quickly check that there are no vehicles following close behind you.

3. Apply your brakes firmly. This can help reduce the impact of the collision and decrease the risk of injuries to yourself and your passengers. 

4. Steer in the direction the animal is coming from, if safe to do so. This encourages the animal to cross the road more quickly. If driving in that direction is unsafe, steer straight ahead. Do not swerve. Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and increase the risk of a more serious accident.

5. Ease up on the brakes as you approach the animal. This will minimize the impact of the collision and can prevent the animal from going through your windshield.

6. Pull over and assess the damage. Once you have safely stopped your vehicle, assess the damage and call for assistance if necessary. If the animal is injured or dead, contact the appropriate wildlife authorities.

7. Document the incident. Take photos and videos of the accident scene and damage to your vehicle. These will be helpful documents to provide to your insurer if you need to submit a claim. If the wildlife is deceased, it is recommended that you leave the carcass in place until authorities have arrived and documented the event. 

8. Emergency help. In some parts of Canada, you are required by law to call the Police or the Conservation Authorities if you have a collision with some larger wildlife, such as deer or moose. If there is an injury to the driver or occupants, always call for help. If the animal appears injured, do not approach it, wait for law enforcement to assess the situation. 

Wildlife collisions and insurance

If you have a collision and have comprehensive insurance coverage, your policy will likely cover damages to your vehicle caused from collisions with wildlife. Depending on your province, and the nature of the accident, you may be deemed not at fault — meaning your insurance rates would not be affected. This is typically the case when an animal darts out in front of your vehicle while you’re driving. Always check with your insurance company to understand the specific terms of your policy and what is covered.

If you’re shopping for auto insurance and would like a quote, reach out to an Orbit broker at 877-976-7248. If you’re an Orbit customer and you have questions about your insurance coverage, call 877-976-7248 to review your policy or learn more about your coverage options.

  1. Canadian Underwriter
  2. The Globe and Mail
  3. Wildlife Collision Prevention Program
  4. Workplace Safety North