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Driving Concerns

What should you do if you see an animal on the road? Add to ...

A recent encounter with a Canada goose family crossing a road and the events in a Quebec court for a woman who stopped for some ducks caused me to wonder about the responsibility of the driver when animals and cars interact on the road? — Bill, Whitby

It doesn’t matter why the chicken crossed the road — your responsibility is to the people around you.

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“It depends on the size of the animals and the size of the vehicles behind you but human life has to come first,” says Angelo DiCicco, GTA director for Young Drivers of Canada. “If you’re prepared to make the right choice, the answer might be that it’s over for Rover.”

For animals smaller than an adult deer or moose, experts say to slow down or stop in a straight line -- but only if there’s not a vehicle close behind you.

“If no one is behind you on the road, you slow down and go around the animal carefully if you can — but the dangerous times are when you’re surrounded by other traffic,” says says Kristine D’Arbelles, spokesperson for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). “It goes without saying that you should never ever ever swerve — the vehicle can go out of control.”

If you're forced to choose between getting rear-ended and hitting a small animal — hit the animal.

“We don’t say it’s okay to run over an animal if you can avoid it — but if you have someone tailgating you, you could hurt them or yourself by stopping suddenly,” D’Arbelles says.

Phantom menace?

Besides, that squirrel or raccoon you’re swerving to hit may not actually be in danger, DiCicco says.

“You could be putting human life at risk to swerve for a squirrel that isn’t there anymore,” he says. “There’s a blind area around the car — many people swerve for small animals that are nowhere near the wheels of the car and they end up driving into a telephone pole.”

But, if the animal’s big — "a moose, a deer or a bear,” DiCicco says — “hitting it could knock its legs out and send it through your windshield. You may have to swerve, but only if it’s safe.

If it’s a large animal, check in rear view mirror, brake as hard as possible in straight line to reduce speed, ease up on the brakes at the last minute of you don’t have ABS and swerve toward the butt end of the animal because it’s likely to keep crossing,” DiCicco says. ”

Slow down, already

Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act doesn’t address animals directly, but Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation and Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources say you can avoid critter collisions in the first place by driving the speed limit.

Also, slow down when there are road signs warning of animals and pay extra attention to the ditches and sides of the road, especially at dawn and dusk.

At night, use your high beams and go the speed limit so you can see animals on the road before it’s too late.

“At night, people think animals just jumped out in front of them — that happens sometimes and airplanes fall out of the sky sometimes,” DiCicco says. “People are overdriving their headlights — they’re driving too fast to stop in the distance covered by their headlights."

People end up in serious crashes with other cars because they let their emotions take over when they see a bunny, DiCicco says.

“Drivers need to be prepared to make these tough decisions and not get in a 12 car pileup because they saw a baby deer and thought of Bambi,” he says.

Stopping for animals

A Quebec woman faces sentencing next month after she was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death under the Criminal Code of Canada. She stopped her car in the left lane of a highway near Montreal to rescue some ducklings on the median. Her vehicle was struck by a man riding on his motorcycle with his daughter. They were both killed.

In that case, the woman’s mistake was stopping on the road instead of safely pulling over.

"If you want to engage in any kind of animal rescue, your primary responsibility is your own safety and the safety of other people on the road,” says OPP Sgt. Pierre Chamberland. “If you can’t pull well off the road safely, then keep driving and call it in later.”

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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