What to Do if You Hit an Animal While Driving in NZ


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What do you do if you hit an animal while driving? Even though it’s scary to consider it a possibility, you should always be prepared for such a situation. Think about it…what would you really do if you accidentally hit a stray or injured animal on NZ roads?

If you’re unsure and slightly overwhelmed by this question, we’ll help you out. We share essential information below that’ll help you get through if the unthinkable happens. Because, unfortunately, it could very easily be your reality.

With our long stretches of roads and great land mass, NZ is a country well suited for driving. By December 2021, there were over 4.5 million vehicles on our roads, many of which were daily drivers. Now imagine how many cars would be on the road in 2023 (not to mention the accelerating electric vehicle sales)!

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the impact of this on the animals who share our space.

With all these people on the roads and human infrastructure ever encroaching upon the territory of native wildlife and farm animals, many car accidents involve creatures large and small.

Pets are at risk too

And then there’s domestic pets… all those wandering dogs and cats. As valued members of more New Zealander households than not, the likelihood of injury by car is a real concern.

It’s one reason why pet insurance is such a good idea. It helps you help your beloved fur kid when they really need it, through injury, illness, property damage and beyond. PD Insurance has seen oodles of claims for pets hit by cars. Before you continue reading this article, bookmark our pet road safety article for reading afterwards.

To make matters worse, not every animal in a car accident is hit by a car someone else is driving. Sometimes, sadly, the owner is the driver. Driving safely is largely about being careful of your surroundings because even good drivers have accidents when they’re distracted.

Avoid pets like this Vizsla dog on the road, with defensive driving.

Biodiverse habitats are being lost

As our country continues to develop, more and more wildlife habitats are lost to land clearing. Animals find themselves homeless as the pockets of forests and bushland they call home get smaller.

NZ’s biodiversity is incredibly special, with some of the animals on our shores and slopes found nowhere else on the planet. Until humans set foot in the country, they’d never encountered other predators. Maintaining and protecting them is necessary to all our long-term wellbeing.

So animals end up on roads

If the tuatara, kiwi, kereru, kōkako, kōkako, wallaby, etc., don’t have access to the right trees, food or water, they’ll travel to find them. This can mean crossing roads and highways. Because their habitats can be on the city fringes, this means higher speed limits and… well, we all know the outcome.

Then there’s the likes of animals such as penguins, who come ashore at dusk, wander onto roads and are difficult for drivers to see due to their skin colour. Even seals can end up on roads and cause accidents.

Side note: Did you know a wildlife-wise approach responsible dog ownership also helps keep our precious wildlife safe? Watch the video below or read about how this relates to our Lead the Way programme partnership with the Department of Conservation.

All kinds of animals at risk rural and urban roads

A significant number of car accidents in rural areas involve stray livestock (e.g., sheep, horses, cattle and goats), wildlife and other animals. There are even more ‘near misses’ where a vehicle swerved to avoid them. The vast majority hit are native animals.

And, sadly, many dogs and cats are hit in city and suburban areas every day. The increasing number of pets in NZ means an increased risk of hitting one when you’re on the road. It might be because they’ve escaped from their home, stepped out from the curb at the wrong time or wandered off when their owner takes a break on a pet travel trip.

Either way, what do you do when you hit this kind of animal while driving?

Safety first: yours and the animal’s

You’ll know if you hit an animal – there’s a heart-stopping thud that quickly turns into a distressing realisation.

If this happens you first need to make sure it’s safe for you to pull over and exit the vehicle. Your initial instinct will be to immediately get out of the car and tend to the injured animal. Instead, before you do anything, be careful of other traffic about; don’t risk your life.

All clear? Pull over to the side of the road as far as possible, put your handbrake on and turn on your hazard lights. Time to tend to the animal.

Drive slow so as not to hit an animal like this sheep while driving.

Your next considerations

Now you’ll need to examine the situation carefully while keeping your own safety top of mind. Ask yourself these questions.

Q: Has the car accident killed the animal?

If it’s safe to do so, it’s your responsibility to remove it from the road. This will eliminate the hazard for other drivers. Be extra cautious with marsupials like possums that may have babies in their pouches.

You also need to be cautious you don’t get hurt in the process, by other cars or by the animal itself!

Q: Is the animal you hit while driving still alive?

If the animal is still alive, it’ll be at the very least frightened and likely injured. You need to assess how safely you can help it. For example, how large or hostile is it? Big or small, many animals can become aggressive when feeling threatened.

Think of pets for instance. Even your own cat or dog that’s scared can sometimes react aggressively when they’re hurt or injured. Wild or stray animals and even livestock may be bigger or stronger.

this orange tabby cat is hissing after being an animal hit by a car while someone was driving on a NZ road

Q: How should you best approach it?

If you can do so without risking your own safety, approach the animal quietly and calmly from behind. You need to cover it then keep it warm and quiet while you seek help, so handle it using a towel, blanket or clothing. This protects both you and them.

Make sure you cover the bite-y and scratchy body parts before carrying it to your car. An unconscious animal may wake up during the rescue mission and may cause further damage to you or your car interior (as well as the poor animal itself).

Or you may choose to wait by the side of the road for an animal rescue group.

Either way you will need to make it as comfortable and calm as possible. And be sure to wash your hands as soon as you can! Keeping liquid detergent in the car will help keep the germs at bay.

Q: When to know if you should not handle an injured animal?

If you’ve hit an animal while driving, there may be times when moving it while it’s injured can put you at risk and cause further damage over and above the injury. If you’re unsure, the police, a vet or an animal rescue centre will be able to provide further advice.

Aside from bites and scratches, there’s the potential you could pick up any number of diseases or develop a nasty infection. For example, never touch or handle any bats as they are likely to carry viruses that are harmful to humans. This is another reason to keep a handy sanitizer or disinfecting wet wipes nearby during drives.

This brown NZ deer is up high on a grassy hill, trying to avoid being an animal hit on a road

Q: What to do if the animal you hit while driving hurts you?

If you get bitten or scratched by an animal you’re trying to care for, flush the wound with water and disinfectant. Then follow basic first aid like applying a bandage and watch for signs of infection.

From there, visit your GP as soon as you can. You may need antibiotics, a tetanus booster or some other kind of shot to guard against any nasties. Animal’s teeth and nails can carry nasty bacteria that can get into your blood and make you very sick, and quickly.

Q: “I’ve hit an animal while driving” – who to call?

If the animal is still alive or it has live babies, you could find the closest vet and take the animal there. You’ll find most vets will take in and treat injured native wildlife and domestic animals.

1. Vets

When it comes to pets, vets can contact owners after checking whether the dog cat or other companion animal has been microchipped (or it’s collared). People often call the vets in their area as soon as a pet escapes. If you can manage it safely, why not take the pet in?

This is another reason for microchipping pets. These small chips make it much easier for authorities to reunite missing and injured pets with owners. Read about getting a dog microchip for your pooch and cat microchips for meowsers.

2. Traffic services

Another option is to keep the animal where it is. Cover them up to keep them warm and calm then call ‘555’. Traffic Emergency Services will provide advice on where to go from here.

3. Rescue group

Or, you might call a wildlife rescue group such as the Wildlife Rehabilitators Network of New Zealand or a bird rescue organisation. It pays to have them listed on your phone before driving, whether it’s an urban road trip or a long drive on rural roads.

No one wants to hit an animal while driving, but in reality it’s always possible it can happen. Watch this episode of the PD vet vlog for tips on what to do if you hit an animal while driving:

Q: Must I report a dead or injured animal?

If it’s a native animal that’s seriously injured and you think it needs to be euthanised rather than rescued, contact the local police. Unsure? The police or a wildlife rescue group can always make that judgement.

If the stray animal is a pet then think about if you were in the owner’s shoes – would you want the driver to contact you, a vet, police or an animal rescue group? Please think twice before leaving someone’s beloved furry family member behind without finding someone to hand it over to.

Regardless, if the animal hit while you were driving is a road hazard you need to call Traffic Emergency Services or police. You don’t want it to cause more road trauma.

Q: Does car insurance cover you if you hit an animal while driving?

Yes, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover you when you hit a stray animal. However, different insurers treat this situation differently when it comes to excess. Expect that they will charge you an excess to repair your car, then be pleasantly surprised if this isn’t the case (unlikely).

If you hit livestock, you’ll need to claim on your own insurance but check the relevant laws in your area.

this Dama wallaby stands upright in a grass patch, hopeully not about to become an animal hit on a road in NZ

How to avoid hitting an animal while driving

Several species of New Zealand fauna are very active at dusk and dawn. If you’re driving at these times, slow down and be aware. Remember that if you hit a stray animal while driving, the impact can injure both you and the stray animal. Your car could suffer damage and other drivers could be embroiled in the collision.

So, if you’re doing a lot of driving during these periods perhaps look into improving your defensive driving skills with a course.

Even in built up urban areas, deer and wallabies gather on the sides of roads. If you see one, know there are likely more just out of sight. Beep your horn sharply to scare them off. Don’t get out to shoo away healthy, hefty animals. They could scare and run at you or into the road and another car.

Importantly, pay attention to road signs that signal high wildlife populations and crossings. Be sure to report livestock on roads to the police.

Keep an emergency kit like this in your car in case you encounter an injured animal.

Emergency car supplies for if you hit an animal when driving

Consider keeping a basic first aid animal kit in your car. We keep one for humans in our cars, so by extension why not have a few extra animal medical aids handy too?

Before you attempt using supplies, be mindful that unconscious stray animals may rouse and become distressed if you put them in your car. You don’t need a terrified kākāpō scratching his way out while you try to get him to safety. That alone could result in a whole new level of car mishaps.

An animal first aid kit could include:

  • Old towels or a big old blanket to wrap them in and keep them calm
  • A small foldable box or collapsible carrier, handy for small to medium animals
  • Fluids in small and large bottles, to help keep them hydrated
  • A torch to help you see properly during the night or early morning
  • Bandages to stem any blood flow
  • Hardy gloves for handling any bite-y, claw-y or scratch-y animals

Other important ‘just in case’ prep

If you hit a stray animal while driving it can be distressing. Planning ahead for ‘just in case’, keeping aware on the road and taking extra care at particular times of day will help you reduce the likelihood of it ever happening.

It’s OK to expect the best, especially if you prepare for the worst. In reality, any pet can get hit by a car. Even yours. This is another reason to have a good pet insurance plan in place. In the event of a car accident, your pet should be able to get the medical attention it needs without you worrying about the cost.

Cat insurance and dog insurance covers a broad range of medical costs. For example, emergency vet visits, surgery, hospitalisation and prescription medicine just for starters! Watch this Why Vets Recommend Pet Insurance video below:

PD recognises the importance of covering your pet for this situation. Why not get a cat insurance or dog insurance quote with us and find out more about how you can safeguard your pet’s life? With no lock-in contracts on our monthly plans and one or more months free when you sign up online, what do you have to lose?

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