Spring driving tip: Watch for critters!

Wild animals present a significant road hazard in spring, but is it better to brake for them, swerve or just keep driving?

By Ian Law Wheels.ca

Apr 27, 2013 4 min. read

Article was updated 10 years ago

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It's amazing the effect warmer weather has on living creatures. It lures motorists, cyclists and pedestrians onto the roads with an almost magnetic force.

And they're not the only "creatures" that feel the pull.

As the weather warms up, more and more animals will be on the move as well. Racoons, fox and skunks will be coming out of hibernation and looking for food. Deer will be moving from their winter feeding grounds to their summer foraging spots.

Spring brings them back out for food and sex and they don't always look before crossing our roads. Hunger can drive these animals to take risks they normally wouldn?t, including crossing roads they'd normally avoid.

At this time of year especially, we need to be on the lookout and expecting to see more animal movement than we saw through the winter.

Striking even one of these smaller animals can damage your vehicle. Hitting an animal as large as a deer or moose can cause serious injury or death to vehicle occupants as well as serious damage to the vehicle.

The best way to avoid or minimize your chances of hitting an animal is to slow down in rural areas or places likely to have plenty of animal movement. It's also a good idea to slow down in limited visibility conditions, such as twilight, fog or nighttime.

Slowing down gives you four advantages:

1. It means your braking distances are considerably shorter. Simply slowing by 5 or 10 km/h makes for a noticeable reduction in braking distances . The video below,? produced by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, shows that slowing by just 5 km/h from 65 km/h to 60 km/h translated into a massive 27 km/h difference at the impact point. This is significant in terms of how much damage will be inflicted on you, your vehicle or the animal.

2. You increase your chances of swerving around the animal successfully.

An important note: If you're not sure of your car control skills you should not try to swerve to avoid smaller animals. Too many people have lost their lives or have been seriously injured trying to swerve for an animal.

If you have not taken an advanced driver training course to learn the correct way to perform collision avoidance, it is often safer to simply brake hard and hit the animal rather than risking loss of control in an avoidance manoeuvre.

In the accompanying video taken in late winter, you can see examples of deer and wild turkey crossing the road in front of the car.

Because I was keeping my vision high, paying attention to my driving and travelling at a slower speed in anticipation of animal crossings, neither of these encounters presented a danger for me or the animals. In the wild turkey crossing, I was more concerned about the "turkey" following much too closely behind me in his pickup truck.? I sounded the horn as much to alert driver behind me as to scare the turkeys into going in the opposite direction. These turkeys are large enough to do significant damage to a vehicle.

3. Slowing down gives you more time to see the animal and more time to react.

4. Slower speeds greatly reduce the energy upon impact. The slower the speed at impact, the less energy your vehicle has to dissipate. If you decrease your speed by 20 per cent you decrease the energy of the impact by about 40 per cent.

When confronted with a wayward animal in your path, brake as hard as possible and hope for the best. Swerving to avoid requires proper vision technique and car control skills.

(An important? exception to this advice is if the animal is very large, such as a moose or large bear. Collisions with these behemoths can be fatal in themselves. In this case, an attempt at brake-and-steer may reduce the chances of severe injuries to both parties.)

No small animal is worth anyone's life.

Some motorists may feel they would do whatever possible to prevent the death of the animal, but their passengers or other drivers impacted by their decision may not feel the same. I would certainly hope a motorist will not swerve directly into the path of my car trying to save the life of an animal.

We may feel remorse or regret hitting a small animal but it is much better than the suffering experienced by the survivors of a motorist's death.

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