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One 1993 study suggests that motorists may be responsible for killing nearly 130 million animals every year, and some people speculate that the figure is even higher today. Of these, most animals who die go unnoticed by motorists; creatures like snakes, birds and frogs are fairly inconsequential to drivers and are unlikely to cause any damage. Some animals are quite large, however, and when their paths cross human roadways, injuries and massive damage can result.
Compared to the number of animals killed each year, relatively few people are injured or killed in accidents involving animals: only about 200 people die each year from animal-related crashes. Nevertheless, some animals present a very real threat to human drivers.
Top 5 Animals Injured by Motor Vehicles
With over 1 million dogs killed by cars every year, canines can pose a major threat to drivers throughout the country. Car accidents are the leading cause of traumatic injuries and death in dogs, and they make up as much as 6% of all animal-related traffic fatalities for humans. Cars pose a greater threat to dogs than they do to drivers because most dogs are quite small. On the other hand, dogs pose an unexpected danger: many of them are accompanied by owners who may dart into traffic in an attempt to catch the escaped pet. Although rare, people do sometimes get struck and killed as pedestrians while attempting to rescue dogs from oncoming traffic.
Some “free range” states do not require ranchers to keep their livestock fenced in. This can lead to wandering cattle, sheep and other animals, and those animals sometimes find their way into major roads. The Federal Highway Association suggests that livestock makes up nearly 15% of all animal-related crashes nationwide. Livestock collisions can be especially devastating for drivers; not only may the impact cause vehicle damage and injuries, but the driver may be held liable for replacing the animal.
It’s hard to get an exact figure on the number of horse-related accidents that happen each year. Some reports group them together with other forms of livestock, whereas horse-and-rider or horse-drawn carriages are considered vehicles in some states. News reports from the first quarter of 2004 show six serious horse-related accidents with severe injuries or fatalities.
Most of these accidents were caused by horses that had broken loose and running freely in the street, but many other accidents occur each year with horse-drawn carriages in Amish country, as well as in New York where horse-related accidents can be devastating. Although fairly uncommon, accidents caused by horses are often newsworthy due to the tremendous amount of damage they can cause. Horses can weigh upwards of a thousand pounds and they’re at a height that makes them prone to going through the car’s windshield or over its roof.
Northern states have a surprisingly high number of moose collisions. According to the FHWA study, 15% of all animal-related collisions in Maine involve a moose. Though less common than collisions with deer, moose-related accidents are more likely to end in serious injuries or death. This is because moose, like horses, are extremely large. With weights of up to 1,500 pounds and a shoulder height of six feet, the moose is so big that a driver may not immediately notice it. The animals are drawn to roads during the winter so that they can lick up the salt scattered on icy roads. The combination of massive, lumbering animals coupled with icy winter roads is a recipe for disaster for many people in northern states.
The single deadliest mammal in America is the deer. More people are killed each year by deer-related traffic accidents than by shark attacks, bear maulings or vicious panthers. In fact, deer cause over 77% of the animal-related fatalities that occur each year, according to the FHWA, accounting for an average of 113 fatalities nationwide. These numbers are even higher in some states; Texas, for example, rates the highest for deer-related fatalities, with an average of 227 deaths per year attributed to deer. Almost twice as many people were killed by deer in 2007 than in 1994.
Deer are responsible for about 1.5 million auto crashes each year. Although only a fraction of these accidents are deadly, these collisions add up to around $1.1 billion spent by insurance companies across the country. Collisions with deer also pose a major safety hazard to motorcyclists, with 85% of deer-related collisions proving fatal for motorcyclists.
Accidents with deer are the most common in the fall, especially in November when the deer’s mating season peaks. The spring months, especially May and June, are also a peak for animal activity of all kinds. Motorcycle accidents may occur more frequently in the summer due to the warmer weather, and moose accidents are more common in the winter due to salted streets, but overall the majority of animal-related accidents continue to happen in the fall.
Drive with Caution
Although not the most common type of car accident, collisions with animals are still a major threat to drivers. By taking care to prevent them, you can be sure you don’t risk costly repairs, medical bills or worse. When you drive down country roads, pay attention to the shoulder, maintain a reasonable speed and keep an eye on the road at all times.
If you do happen to come across an animal, don’t swerve to miss it. This could lead to the car losing control and running off the road. Instead, slow down as comfortably as possible and turn off your lights; the animal is less likely to become transfixed and freeze in the road if the lights are off. If one animal crosses your path, keep an eye out for more; deer especially like to travel in groups, and it’s often the second or third deer that causes the collision.