What to do if you hit an animal while driving

Hitting an animal while driving can really leave you shaken, but don’t panic. Our simple guide covers what you need to know and the steps you should take if the worst does happen.

Hitting an animal while driving can really leave you shaken, but don’t panic. Our simple guide covers what you need to know and the steps you should take if the worst does happen.

Daniel Hutson
Motor insurance expert
6
minute read
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Posted 27 JANUARY 2020 Last Updated 24 MARCH 2022

What should I do if I accidentally hit an animal while driving?

Hitting an animal with your car or bike is upsetting, but it’s important to stay calm. There could be legal ramifications for some animal-related road accidents, so it’s good to be aware of the law. 

The first thing to do if you’ve hit an animal is to slow to a safe stop. Try to stay calm and take stock of the situation. You’ll need to stay at the scene long enough for any other parties, such as the animal’s owner, the police or the RSPCA to take your details. This applies even if the accident wasn’t your fault.

An injured animal could try to defend itself, so take care. If it’s a domestic pet, see if you can find the owner’s details on a collar if it’s safe to do so.

You can report an injured animal to the RSPCA in England or Wales, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) or the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA). The RSPCA may recommend a local vet if it’s safe for you to transport the animal. You won’t have to pay the fees for any treatment.

If the animal is dead and can be moved, clear it from the road to prevent obstruction and further accidents. 

Check your car for any damage. Make sure it’s safe to drive before leaving the scene.

What to do if you hit a dog 

Dogs are covered under the Road Traffic Act of 1988. That means if you hit a dog while driving, you must report it to the police. Not reporting it is a criminal offence. 

Once you’ve found a safe spot to pull over and stop, call the police and explain the situation. If the dog’s owners are there, let them know you’ve contacted the police then give them your name and address, and the vehicle owner’s name and address if it’s not the same.

If the dog is alone, and it’s safe to do so, check to see if there’s a contact phone number on its collar. Don’t put your own safety at risk – make sure you’re aware of your surroundings and look out for other cars. 

If the dog doesn’t have a collar or you don’t know who the owner is, you still need to report it to the police. 

In terms of liability for any damage, the dog’s owner is usually responsible for any accidents involving their pet running into the road. Letting a dog out on the road on its own, off its lead, is prohibited according to rule 56 of the Highway Code.

What to do if you hit a cat 

As it stands you don’t need to report it to the police if you hit a cat while driving. 

If the cat survives the accident but it’s injured, take it to a local vet and let them know you’re not the owner. Look for any tags on the cat’s collar. If there’s a contact number, call the owners to let them know what’s happened and where they can find their cat. Otherwise, hopefully the cat will have been microchipped and the vet will be able to locate the owner. 

If the owner remains unknown, take a picture of the cat and consider putting posters around the neighbourhood or posting on local internet forums in the hope that the owners will see it.

What to do if you hit a cow or other farmyard animal 

You must file a police report by law if you hit any domesticated or farm animals including: 

  • Cows or cattle
  • Sheep
  • Horses
  • Goats
  • Pigs
  • Donkeys or mules

If an injured animal is blocking the road, park in a suitable spot and use hazard lights and a warning triangle to warn other motorists to slow down and take care. Make sure you’re not blocking the road and becoming a hazard yourself. 

While at the scene, look to see how the farm animal escaped onto the road. Is there a gate open or a broken fence? If so, the owner of the animal may be liable for any damage caused by the accident.

What to do if you hit a deer, bird or other wild animal 

If you hit a bird or a wild animal such as a badger, bird, rabbit, fox or deer, you don’t need to report it, although you may want to if you think the injured animal in the road will be a danger to other drivers. The RSPCA encourages that you call them, or their counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland - the SSPCA or the USPCA - if you injure or kill an animal. 

Try to get close enough to the animal to assess how badly hurt it is so you can pass on that information to the RSPCA. Be careful when approaching though, as wild animals can be unpredictable when scared. If you hit a small animal, like a bird or a hedgehog, and you can safely transport it, consider taking it to a local vet or wildlife rehabilitation centre. You might just save its life.

Will hitting an animal while driving affect my insurance? 

It’s always best to tell your insurance provider if you have an accident involving an animal, even if you don’t intend to make a claim. The terms and conditions of your insurance might require you to log all incidents. 

If you’re unsure about when you’ll need to make a claim, read our guide on the claims process.

Tips to avoid hitting an animal while driving 

It’s always important to drive safely, but there are a few extra precautions that could help you avoid hitting an animal:

  • Stay within the speed limit at all times
  • Keep an eye out for road signs indicating deer or other wildlife
  • Be extra careful in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening, when animals could be roaming and visibility is poor
  • Take care in residential areas where there might be domestic pets
  • Make sure your lights are working properly
  • Keep your distance, especially in wildlife corridors where you may need to brake suddenly
  • Use your high beam on rural roads at night when there are no other motorists present
  • Take extra care during deer-rutting season, between September and early November when stags may be more aggressive.

Remember that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to claim on your car insurance for any damage if you weren’t following the rules of the road or respecting local signs. 

For tips on driving safely in tricky conditions, read our guide to winter driving safety.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if I find a dead animal on the road?

If you find a dead animal on the road, whether it’s a domesticated pet like a cat or a dog, or a wild animal like a deer, badger or fox, you should report it to your local council.

Why doesn’t the law require you to report accidents involving cats?

Dogs and many farmyard animals are covered by section 170 of the Road Traffic Act of 1988 because of their status as working animals. Cats are not included because they’re classed only as domestic pets.

Can I claim on my car insurance for damage caused by hitting an animal?

You may be able to claim for any damage caused by hitting an animal depending on the situation and your policy. If you’re unclear, your insurance provider will be able to clear it up, and it’s a good idea to speak to them and log the incident even if you don’t intend to claim.

What evidence do I need to claim for accidents involving animals?

Hitting a large farmyard animal or a deer can cause massive damage to your car, so you’ll want to make sure you gather as much evidence as possible to support any insurance claim. It’s an upsetting situation, but remember to take photos of the scene and the surroundings. Look out for any broken fences or open gates that may have allowed an animal to escape onto the road. Speak to people at the scene and ask for their details – if possible, get a witness statement. If you have a dashboard cam, remember to back up any footage as soon as you can.

Will I be liable if I cause an accident trying to avoid hitting an animal?

It really depends on the situation, but if you slam on the brakes, make an emergency stop or swerve to avoid hitting an animal and in doing so cause a crash or collision, you may be liable for any damage or injury caused to other vehicles and the drivers and passengers inside.

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