It is not something anyone would wish to experience, but road kill is something which happens to most drivers at some point in their lives. While most incidents of road kill are accidental, some stem from careless or dangerous driving, so what exactly is the law? Are you legally obliged to stop? Are you liable for prosecution if you do not report the incident to the police?
Most drivers are aware that they need to stop and report accidents but some may be surprised that this legislation also applies to those accidents which involve animals.
Road Traffic Accidents involving Deers
Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1980 deals with the duty to report an accident and specifically states that a driver must stop when involved in an accident by which ‘damage is caused to an animal other than an animal in or on that vehicle’.
It goes on to say that the driver must stop and, if required to do so, give his name and address to a relevant party. If for whatever reason this is not possible (i.e. the owner of the animal is not present), the accident must be reported to the police as soon as possible or within 24 hours. Under this piece of legislation, ‘animal’ refers to horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog. Accidents involving other animals such as deer, cats, badgers, foxes, rabbits and pheasants do not need to be reported as a road traffic collision.
If a driver does not do so, then they can be prosecuted for failing to report an accident for which the penalty is between 5 and 10 penalty points in addition to a fine and court costs although in certain circumstances the penalty could be more severe. If there are any witnesses to poor driving, then charges of careless or dangerous driving may be brought and the death of the animal used as an aggravating factor.
Collisions involving deer are particularly frequent and statistics obtained from The Deer Initiative show that the toll of deer involved annually in vehicle collisions in the UK is estimated to be between 42,000 to 74,000. Such deer related accidents result in over 450 human injuries and several human fatalities every year. Strictly speaking, the legislation referred to above does not require you to report a collision with a deer as it does not fall under any of the categories of animal listed.
Notwithstanding that, The Deer Act 1991 prohibits the taking or killing of deer unless it is done for the purpose of preventing the suffering of an injured deer. That said, many police forces around the country have Deer Wardens as a way to help keep the roads safe while also treating animals injured in collisions. You should therefore report an accident involving a deer by telephoning the police non emergency number 101 so that a Deer Warden can attend and take care of any injuries or, if necessary put the animal down as this can only be done by an authorised person.
What Do you Do if you hit a Deer?
Unfortunately for deer, it would be unwise for drivers to actively swerve to try and avoid a collision. Doing so may result in losing control and colliding with another vehicle or property. If this happens, formal charges would more than likely be brought and it may be very difficult for you to prove that the deer was ever there in the first place. We would suggest the following guidelines if you unfortunately come across a deer whilst driving:
- Do take note of deer warning signs – by driving with caution at or below the speed limit. Such signs are positioned only where wildlife crossings are likely.
- The main national peaks in deer related traffic collisions occur during May, followed by mid October through December. Highest-risk periods are at night-time.
- Be aware that further deer may well cross after the ones you have noticed .
- After dark, use full-beam headlights when there is no opposing traffic. The headlight beam will illuminate the eyes of deer and provide greater driver reaction time. However, when a deer is noted on the road, dim your headlights as animals startled by the beam may ‘freeze’ instead of leaving the road.
- Do not over swerve to avoid hitting a deer. If a collision with the animal seems inevitable, then hit it while maintaining full control of your car. The alternative of swerving into oncoming traffic or a ditch could be even worse.
- Only break sharply and stop if there is no danger of being hit by following traffic. Try to come to a stop as far in front of the animals as possible to enable it to leave the roadside without panic.
- Report any deer-vehicle collisions to the police who should be able to contact the local person best placed to assist with an injured deer at the roadside.
Specialist Road Traffic Offence Solicitors
Written by Ruth Peters. Ruth is a specialist motoring solicitor with an outstanding success rate in defending all manner of motoring offences. Should you require the services of a specialist motoring lawyer please call Olliers Motorlaw on
0808 168 0017
For more advice on road traffic accidents involving deers and in general visit:
http://www.theaa.com/public_affairs/news/deer-collisions.html or follow them on twitter @THE_AA