blog home Car Accidents How can I avoid accidents involving deer and other animals?

How can I avoid accidents involving deer and other animals?

By John Singleton on November 10, 2022

A driver who causes an accident in an attempt to avoid hitting an animal in the road may have to pay for any damage caused by the crash. This may sound harsh, but the law finds it unreasonable for someone to put the lives of human beings at risk rather than hit an animal.

It doesn’t matter if the animal in the road is wild or domestic–if the driver swerves to avoid it and this results in damage, the driver can be held liable for injuries suffered by their own passengers and by people traveling in another car.

Exception: Drivers do have to make every effort to avoid hitting “beasts of burden” – animals carrying people, pulling a vehicle, or being led by a person holding the reins. In these situations, the people and their animals do have the right of way.

However, it’s also important to note that if you choose to crash into an animal in the road, you still may be held responsible for any passengers harmed as a result. The people hurt may be able to recover damages from you, as the driver, and the owner of the animal that was allowed to run free.

So, you really have no perfect option when it comes to animals in the road. As a trained driver, you are aware that wild or domestic animals might be in the road at any time of the day or night, and you have to always be driving at a safe speed for the road conditions.

While you are less likely to see a deer in downtown Richmond than in Middlesex County, you very well may see a dog, pet pig, or cat in Shockoe Bottom. However, it’s important to know that an escaped domestic animal (even a horse, cow, or sheep) may have an owner who’s at fault. Each case is fact-specific.

When are you at greatest risk for hitting a wild animal in Virginia?

Wild animal crossings are a problem in Virginia and throughout the United States. More than 2 million drivers collide with animals on roadways every year. Deer are the most likely animals to cause accidents.

In Virginia, the deer population has exploded in recent decades, and they now cause more than 6,500 collisions in the Commonwealth annually. These accidents usually happen at dusk or dawn, and more than half of them happen from October through December, which is deer mating season, known as the Rut.

Virginia drivers now have a 1 in 74 chance of colliding with an animal, according to a recent study by State Farm Insurance.

Will my insurance cover damage to my car if I hit a wild animal?

When your vehicle is damaged in an accident caused by crashing into a wild animal, such as a deer, your insurance will probably cover the damage if you have comprehensive coverage. But your claim may be denied if you were violating any traffic laws at the time, such as speeding, running a red light, or driving under the influence. Virginia’s contributory negligence law bars recovery of damages if you are even partially responsible for the accident.

What happens if I hit a domestic animal?

In Virginia, people can ride an animal, such as a horse or mule, along a road, and they even have the right to walk a horse or a mule down a road — as long as they’re guiding it by hand.

That means auto drivers may be held liable for harm that results if they crash into a horse and buggy, a horse with a rider, or even an animal being held by reins.

However, as mentioned earlier, you may be able to collect damages from the owner of a domestic animal that causes injuries or vehicle damage when you crash into it. According to Virginia Code § 55-306, it’s unlawful for the owner or manager of any fenced animal to allow it to run at large beyond the limits of the owner’s land.

It’s important to know that the burden of proof is on the driver to show that the animal’s owner was negligent in allowing it to roam free.

When an animal in the road is so large that hitting it could cause harm to you or your passengers, it’s best to avoid it if possible. There was a case in Virginia where the passenger in a car died as a result of injuries sustained in a crash with a with a very large bull. The victim’s family was able to recover damages from both the driver of the car, and the owners of the bull, which had wandered beyond its owner’s property.

What steps can I take to avoid colliding with a deer specifically?

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries says drivers can try to avoid deer collisions by taking these steps:

Be especially careful when driving at dawn and at dusk in the fall, the time of day and time of year when deer are most active.

If you see a deer running across the road up ahead, slow down immediately, and continue to drive slowly until you pass the point where the deer crossed. Female deer frequently travel in groups and more deer may be about to cross.

If you see a VDOT deer crossing warning sign, slow down and watch for deer. They prefer to cross the same areas routinely, although you can’t rely exclusively on these signs.

Do not swerve to miss a deer. Instead, brake and stay in your lane. Losing control of your vehicle so you hit an oncoming vehicle, or go off the road and hit a tree, will likely cause a more serious accident than hitting a deer.

Watch the shoulder of the road. Be alert for deer standing along the shoulder because they may suddenly move into the road. Slow down and honk your horn to scare them away.

What won’t help me avoid hitting a deer?

High-frequency whistles on your vehicle aren’t going to help much, according to researchers at the University of Georgia, who tested a variety of sounds at different frequencies and intensities to see how deer reacted.

Their conclusion: Though some people swear by them, deer whistles don’t change the animals’ behavior.

What else can I do to avoid a wreck caused by a deer?

Here are more things you can do to lower the chances that you’ll hit a deer on the road, according to State Farm Insurance:

  1. If you know you’re at risk, slow down and keep your eyes focused on both sides of the road. Be prepared to make a complete stop if necessary. Remember that deer don’t stop, look, and listen before they dart into the road.
  2. Use your high beams whenever possible to increase your chances of seeing animals in the ditches. Flicking on your high beams may also cause animals to scurry away.
  3. Make sure you and your passengers are wearing your seat belts at all times. If you do hit a deer, it will decrease the chances you’ll be injured.

Were you hurt by a careless driver?

At GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys, we work hard to help protect our friends and neighbors in Virginia from having accidents through safety education. But when an accident does happen and your injuries are caused by a person’s careless behavior, you should not have to pay your own medical bills and other expenses. We consider a calling to help you get the compensation you need to get better.

We offer you small-town care, with big-city legal experience. Call us at (804) 413-6777 to set up a free appointment with us today. We also offer a no-fee guarantee, meaning we get paid when you get paid.

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