Animals on the road – what do you do?

Many Irish animals have made traffic headlines when they’ve wandered close to motorways and busy commuter routes during rush-hour. Dogs, sheep, bulls, swans and even a peacock, have found themselves in a sticky situation and strayed onto the roadway.

In 2017, an AA survey found that 13% of drivers had been involved in an incident with an animal in the previous 5 years. We’ll all probably come across an unexpected road-user at some stage, so it’s worth knowing what to do when that happens.

Be Alert

Drivers have a responsibility to share the road with other road-users, be it other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians or even animals. The unpredictable nature of animals means you should be extra vigilant if you spot one. Wild animals are most active around sunrise, and between sunset and midnight. Take particular care in areas where animals might be present, such as scenic areas, woodlands, open fields, passing riding schools and in housing estates. Always be on alert when you see either of these road signs, which signal that animals frequent the area:

Source RSA Rules of the Road

Reduce your speed

Slowing down is the most important thing you can do if you spot an animal on or near the road. Failing to reduce your speed could force you to suddenly brake or need to swerve, putting yourself and other road-users at risk. As well as protecting the animals themselves, remember that larger animals could cause you serious harm if you collide with them. Always slow your speed when overtaking horse-drawn vehicles and riders on horseback as well – remember all usual overtaking rules still apply, so you may need to wait for a place where overtaking is permitted and safe.

Dip and beep!

If you spot an animal at night through your full headlights, slow down and dip your beams. Full headlights can startle an animal, causing it to freeze – the last thing you want if they’re blocking your path. Sounding your horn is another useful way to oust a stray animal ahead as the noise will generally cause them to scarper with fright.

Stop if necessary

You may even have to stop to allow an animal to safely pass. In fact, the Rules of the Road states that if a person in charge of animals signals you to stop, you must do so. If you meet a stray animal on a motorway, only stop if the animal is directly blocking your path. Never get out of your vehicle on a motorway to attempt to move an animal. On all other routes, only leave your car to move an animal if you’re pulled in off the road and you’re sure it’s safe for you to do so.

Call for help

Calling for help is the best way to ensure the safe removal of an animal from the road. In general, the Gardaí are best placed to respond to calls about loose animals. If you’re on a motorway, you can call TII’s motorway incident emergency line at 0818 715 100. You can also use one of the emergency phones located at 1.6km intervals along the hard shoulder. To give a precise location on a motorway, look out for location markers placed every 500m. Remember, never use your phone while driving.

What if you are involved in an incident with an animal?

If the worst happens and you do end up colliding with an animal, stay calm. The first and most important thing to consider is your own safety and the safety of other passengers in your car. Where possible, find a safe spot to stop and turn on your hazard lights to warn other road-users. Avoid attempting to move an injured animal, unless it is in immediate danger and you’re sure it’s safe to do so. Call your local Garda station if there is injury to you or the animal, if there’s damage to your vehicle, or if the collision poses a hazard to other road-users. Collisions involving farm animals and domestic pets must be reported to Gardaí, as they are considered to be their owner’s property.

Animals aren’t the only unexpected hazards you might meet on your journey. For advice on what to do if you come across any road incident, be it a crash, breakdown or debris, see our blog here.