What to Do if You Hit an Animal While Driving in NZ?
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So, what do you do if you hit an animal while driving?
With our long stretches of roads and great land mass, New Zealand is a country that could’ve been created just for driving. Over 5 million vehicles are driving around, many of which are on the road daily. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the impact this might have on the animals who share our space.
With all these people on the roads, and human infrastructure ever encroaching on 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. As valued members of more New Zealander households than not, the likelihood of injury by car is a real concern. Our latest research shows that, of all the hazards local pet owners are concerned about with their fur kids, ‘getting run over by a vehicle’ ranks number one.
It’s why pet insurance is such a good idea – it helps you help your beloved furry family member when they really need it. Through illness, injury, property damage and beyond… In the last year alone PD Insurance has seen oodles of claims for pets hit by cars.
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 well is largely about being careful because even good drivers have accidents when they’re distracted.
Biodiverse habitats at risk
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.
New Zealand’s biodiversity is incredibly special. Some of the animals on our shores and slopes are found nowhere else on the planet. Maintaining and protecting it is necessary to all our long-term wellbeing. And, until humans set foot in the country, they’d never encountered other predators.
If wallabies, Tuataras, skinks, Kereru, Kiwis, 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.
All kinds of animals at risk on the road
A significant number of car accidents in rural areas involve livestock or wildlife, and there are even more ‘near misses’ where a vehicle swerved to avoid them.
The vast majority hit are native animals. However, farm animals such as sheep, horses, cattle and goats are often found wandering on rural roads.
And, sadly, many dogs and cats are hit in city and suburban areas every day. The increasing number of pets in New Zealand 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.
Safety First: Yours and the animals
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 first 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, put your handbrake on and turn on your hazard lights. Time to tend to the animal.
Has the animal been killed?
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.
Is the animal you hit while driving still alive?
It will be at the very least frightened and likely injured. You’ll 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 dog that’s scared can sometimes react aggressively when they’re hurt or injured. Wild animals and even livestock may be bigger or stronger.
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 the bite-y and scratchy body parts are covered 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.
When not to 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.
And if you’re wondering can animals get coronavirus – the answer is yes, some do. This is another reason to keep a handy sanitizer or disinfecting wet wipes nearby during drives.
If you get bitten or scratched by an animal you’re trying to care for, flush the wound with water. Then follow basic first aid 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.
Animal hit by car – 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.
Vets can contact owners after checking up pets that are microchipped or collared. People often call the vets in their area as soon as a pet escapes.
This is another reason for microchipping pets. These small chips makes it that 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.
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.
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 when driving on rural roads or taking road trips. No one wants to hit an animal while driving, but in reality it’s always possible it can happen.
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 animal is a pet then you must contact the owner, police or an animal rescue group. Don’t ever leave someone’s beloved furry family member behind without finding someone to hand it over to.
Does car insurance cover you if you hit an animal while driving?
Yes, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover you when you hit an animal. However, different insurers treat this situation differently when it comes to excess. Some will still charge you the excess to repair your car. Others won’t.
If you hit livestock, you’ll need to claim on your own insurance but check the relevant laws in your area.
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 an animal while driving you and the animal can be seriously injured. Your car could be damaged and other drivers could be embroiled in the collision. It seriously pays to use defensive driving skills.
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.
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 extenstion why not have a few extra animal aids handy too?
Before you attempt using supplies, be mindful that unconscious animals may rouse and become distressed if you put them in your car.
You don’t need a terrified kakapo 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 an 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 will be able to get the medical attention it needs.
Cat insurance and dog insurance covers a broad range of medical costs. For example, hospitalisation, non-routine vet visits, surgery and prescription medicine just for starters!
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