Autumn road hazards – wild animals
As autumn sets in, animal migration increases, and the mating season begins, animal behaviour changes – they become less timid and less cautious. Drivers should be particularly attentive at this time of year, as collisions with wild animals are one of the most common driving hazards, especially in countryside environments.
What should you pay attention to?
Animals usually appear on the roads at dusk and at night, between about 5 – 11 pm, and early in the morning. Moose usually hit the roads in May, June and September, roe deer in May and November and wild boar from September to December.
The sun sets at 8pm in early September and at 7pm in late September. Most accidents are caused by collisions with moose at 8-10 pm and with roe deer at 8 pm. Wild boars move later in the day, with most collisions occurring between 9 – 11 pm in September.
From October onwards, a second, dangerous time also emerges. In October, at 7am, before the sun rises, the chances of encountering roe deer and elk on the road increase dramatically. In November, there are still plenty of roe deer on the roads before the sun rises. Meanwhile, in December, roe deer can usually be found on the road in the mornings between 7 and 9 am., as the sun rises later.
So, in autumn and winter, driving is made more difficult not only by poor lighting, but also by the fact that most ungulates take to the roads when it is dark. Elks are the hardest to spot – their fur is dark and their long legs put their eyes above the threshold of a car’s headlights. Roe deer, wild boar and red deer often appear on the roads in herds rather than alone. They are quite large animals, so a collision between a car and ungulates poses a serious risk to the driver and passengers, and can cause permanent damage to the car itself.
Advice for drivers
Make sure your car is roadworthy before every trip: make sure your car windows are clean inside and out (to improve visibility, especially at night), check that your vehicle’s lights are working, and make sure your headlights are clean. If you have a choice, it’s better to go during daylight hours.
It is important to take into account visibility and other driving conditions, but most importantly to choose a speed lower than the maximum speed limit. Especially after dark, drivers should be even more attentive, reduce their speed and keep an eye on the roadside. This will give drivers more time to spot a wild animal near or on the road.
Drivers should pay attention to the warning sign No. 131 “Wild animals”. This road sign warns you that you are entering a stretch of road where there is a greater chance of encountering wildlife, and that you need to be even more vigilant on that stretch. Of course, in all cases, drivers need to focus on the road and avoid distractions while driving.
If you see a wild animal on or near the road, you should reduce your speed even further and avoid approaching the animal. When trying to scare an animal, you should not frighten it by signalling with short and long lights (which makes the behaviour of a blinded animal completely unpredictable), or by pressing the horn continuously, which can only frighten it. It is recommended to sound the horn in bursts. If you have to brake the car, you should apply the brake pedal firmly, but without losing traction. When it is too late to brake, you should try to go around the animal on the road, but not in the direction its head is facing. When overtaking an animal, you must keep an eye on oncoming traffic to avoid a collision with an oncoming car. You can find the driver’s guide on the website of the Lithuanian Road Administration.
What to do if you have an accident with a wild animal?
There are situations where a collision with an animal cannot be avoided, so try to reduce the impact: 1) point the car in the direction from which the animal came; 2) look in the direction you want to go, not at the animal; 3) try to hit the animal with the side of the car, not the front; 4) release the brake pedal just before the collision (braking lowers the front of the car, increasing the chances of a large animal hitting the windscreen); 5) lean as low as you can (elk and deer often roll onto the roof of the car).
In the event of a collision, the driver should first set off the car’s hazard lights, put on a brightly coloured vest with reflectors and get out of the vehicle when he or she is sure it is safe. There is also a need to properly warn other road users of the obstruction and to place an emergency stop sign – in settlements, the sign should be placed at least 25 metres from the stopped car, and in non-residential areas at least 50 metres.
After reporting the incident, the driver is advised to get back in the car and wait for help, and should not attempt to pull the animal to the side of the road. If the animal is alive, the driver should avoid approaching it – the animal may become frightened and try to run away, which could endanger other road users and the driver himself.
It is important that, even if there are no casualties and the animal has escaped, a collision with a wild animal should be reported immediately by calling the general emergency number 112 and following the operator’s instructions.
Every year, in Lithuania, road traffic accidents involving a collision between a car and an animal cause injury or death to people. According to the data of the Lithuanian Road Police, in the first 7 months of this year, 20 traffic accidents were registered on Lithuanian roads, of which 9 occurred during the dark hours of the day. In the whole of 2021, 32 accidents involving a car colliding with an animal were recorded, 21 of which occurred in the dark. In total, more than 3,800 accidents involving animals on Lithuanian roads were recorded in 2021. More than 1,800 traffic accidents were recorded in the first 7 months of this year.