Animals on the road: Here's what to do

Rory Judd
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Holidays mean long road trips with friends and family. Often long distances need to be covered in vast or rural areas. Animals are a dangerous hazard on the road. Be it cows, sheep, horses, guinea fowls or even dogs.

Do you know what to do behind the wheel when animals crowd the road, or suddenly come out of the bushes?

At all times, drivers should be alert and vigilant to these and other potential threats.

Onus on the driver

While there are laws which set out to prevent domestic animals making their way onto the road, they only apply after the fact, in the form of fines for the owners of those animals. That means the onus on preventing an accident or incident lies firmly with the driver: if an animal is already there, you have to do something about it.

Tips for drivers
Animals can be a distraction or they can be a sudden obstruction on the road. South Africans have to contend with a wide range of different animals: small ones like squirrels, small cats, dogs and even birds, to large ones like cattle, donkeys, antelope and more.

While it isn’t possible to prevent all animals from making their way onto the roads, you can take some precautions to minimise the chance of driving into one.

- Watch the road signs – they are there for a reason – and take note of warnings.
- Be alert and make sure your full attention is on the road.
- Always obey the speed limit.
- Slow down, especially at night and in unfamiliar areas, giving you more time to react.
- Scan the area and be especially watchful on and near farm roads.
- Never swerve! Rather brake; hoot if you have time to scare the animal away.
- Only if safe to do so, steer around the animal. Be aware of oncoming traffic.

If you hit an animal, report the accident to the police and your insurance company. Take photos if possible for record keeping and claims.

Never swerve!

If you are approaching an animal, particularly at high speed, never swerve. 
Release the accelerator, apply the brakes as hard as you can while being mindful of any traffic behind you, and keep steering your course, even if this means hitting the animal, and even if the animal is a large one.

Remember that swerving is the natural response to a sudden obstruction, particularly if it is a person or domestic pet which is in the path of your vehicle. The sudden swerve might save the cat, dog or sheep, but it could very well result in injury or death to you, your passengers or, if you swerve into the path of an oncoming vehicle, to its occupants. 

Swerving at high speed is a major cause of ‘rollover’ crashes – rolling at high speed is extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.

Watch your pets
Animals on the road also include pets in transit; be aware that there are traffic rules which apply. You should not be driving with an animal in the car if it prevents you from:

- Steering effectively
- Signaling a change in direction
- Applying brakes
- Using the hooter

It’s important to note that an animal may not be left on the road or placed in an area that may allow it to stray onto the road. If you travel with your animals and stop on the side of the road, keep your animal safely restrained at all times.

Given the many risks faced when taking to the road, there is never any substitute for defensive driving. Be vigilant at all times, anticipate potential risks before they become threats and always be ready to expect the unexpected.