Over the years, I've had a few close calls - near collisions with wild animals - while driving on the highway. According to Ontario's Ministry of Transportation (MTO), November is the month when most wildlife collisions occur. In fact, the two most dangerous periods of the year for accidents involving wild animals are May through June and from October to January.
gazeronly on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericThe MTO recommends that drivers "avoid driving during dusk or dawn when most wildlife collisions occur."
In Alberta, government statistics in 2013, revealed that "the number of collisions involving animals had consistently doubled during the month of November over the last five years."
So what is it about November that makes it such a dangerous time of year for wildlife and drivers alike?
It's mating season for many wild animals. When the sun is rising or setting (dawn and dusk) are when wildlife is most active. This is doubly hard on drivers who might find it harder to see an animal on the road. And, unfortunately for humans, dawn and dusk are when we tend to become sleepy and less alert behind the wheel.
In the event that a large animal - such as a moose - is on the road, every source I found recommends that you stop your vehicle (as long as there is enough space between you and the animal).
Stefan Andrej Shambora on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericDuring dawn and dusk, use your high beams and watch for the glowing eyes (aka eyeshine) of wildlife in the distance. By doing so, you'll give yourself an extra 20 to 30 feet to stop. It's a myth that moose eyes do not reflect light - they do, but quite often your vehicle's headlights will not reach high enough.
Do not go over the speed limit - this is crucial to avoid any collision. In conditions where there is poor visibility, drive slower than the speed limit. Keep your windshield clean if you must travel during dawn or dusk.
To alert other drivers, put your hazard (flashing) lights on. Keep your headlights directly on the animal. Wait until the animal leaves the road and be sure other animals aren't around before you proceed. Some sources recommend that you "honk in a series of short bursts to encourage the animal to leave the area" while others don't mention doing that at all.
I definitely would tap the horn if the animal isn't moving after a several minutes or if I saw other cars approaching (that weren't slowing down).
Do Not Try to Pass a Moose and Be Ready to Reverse
These next two videos shows you just how dangerous moose can be:
Cow Moose With Two Calves Attacks Pickup Truck
Do not risk your life getting close to a mother moose or her calves:
Not Enough Time or Space to Stop?
Do not swerve into oncoming traffic or into a ditch
Although some sources vary, they all agree that keeping control of your vehicle (both hands on the wheel) and staying within your lane is generally the safest option. The one exception to keep in mind: an adult moose (or something just as large) which is directly in your path. You should swerve to avoid it (if it is safe to do so).
Tap your horn. The animal may leap out of the way or be glanced instead of being hit head on. Other drivers will be warned by the sound of your horn to slow down or stop.
A wikiHow post also provided the following advice which I didn't find anywhere else:
Bob Keefer (rkeefer on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 GenericBrake firmly and slightly angle your car/truck (away from oncoming traffic). Take your foot off the brake as you impact.
The idea here is that by releasing the brakes, your vehicle - if it's tall enough - will lift enough to stop a large animal from rolling over your windshield.
Remember that if you end up glancing the animal, you need to stay in control of your vehicle and be ready to stop after the impact.
If it's inevitable that you will hit a moose (or other large animal), lean towards the door frame and not the center of your car. When large animals are hit straight on, their bodies tend to roll over the vehicle, crushing the central part of the windshield and roof.
Following a collision, call the police. Without a police report, many car insurance companies will not pay for damages incurred from a collision with an animal. If your car is operational, pull over to the side of the road, keep your hazard lights on and direct your headlights towards the animal if it's on the road (so others can avoid it).
I feel it is wisest to stay in your car, however, some advice I found says to move the animal if you are sure it is dead. My fear is that other animals may be around and charge at you.
Up next is a video which shows what happens to a car when it hits a large animal. You can see where most of the damage is done. Note: There is no narration in this video which shows various angles of the impact. Since it gets fairly repetitious, scroll over to the 1:12 mark.
VTI - Car vs. Elk / Moose Crash Test - Volvo V70 Estate
Published on May 10th, 2013 by crashtests-database
Get in the Habit
I found the advice by Arrive Alive in a post titled Avoiding Animals On The Road quite useful. Here's the gist:
- Get in the habit of scanning the sides of the road as you drive. I scan the horizon when I drive too. At night, moose tend to blend into the background, so their silhouette would probably give you the earliest warning.
- Four, six or eight eyes are better than two, so have your passengers help you watch for wildlife on or near the road.
- Keep alert, particularly around waterways and wooded areas near the road.
- Use your high beams whenever possible when it's dark and always wear your seat belt.
- If you spot one animal, there is a good chance others are around - be mindful of that while you proceed through the area.
- Be extra cautious where there are no fences and where animal crossing warning signs are posted.
One more point: moose and other large animals are attracted to roadside salt pools, so you may see them more often near these areas in the winter.
A Moose Kneeling Down to Lick Salt Off the Road
I want to impress upon you what I learned in my defensive driving course. If it's a small animal you see on the road, do not swerve to avoid it. At high speeds, you are much more likely to lose control of your vehicle. And if you are in heavy traffic, stopping or swerving will likely cause more injuries (even death) to yourself or others.
This past summer, an article by Graeme Hamilton in the National Post caught my eye. Sadly, a Montreal woman faced two charges of criminal negligence causing death. Apparently, she stopped her car at the side of a highway, put on her hazards, and walked back to help about seven ducks that were in the left lane.
Tragically, a father and daughter riding a motorcycle smashed into her parked car - and both died. The wife and mother of the deceased stressed, "Even if it’s a small animal that we like or that we want to preserve, we should not stop on the highways."