Anyone who drives can attest to the loss of animal lives caused by vehicles. Printed below are some roadkill avoidance tips taken from Animal Rights Online Newsletter Part 2, Issue #08/08/01. Read through the following Ė it may help save a life.
Birds: Many birds cannot rise fast enough to evade an oncoming car unless they fly directly ahead of the car, using the air current it pushes to provide extra lift. If you brake too abruptly for a bird flying straight ahead of you, you may take away the push he needs and send him crashing into your windshield. Lift your foot off the gas and slow down gently, gradually, until the bird rises above your car or peels away to one side.
Cats: Cars kill about 5.4 million cats per year Ė more, by a million-plus, than are killed in U.S. animal shelters! Most of them are hit at night. Typically cats know cars are dangerous, but confuse the beams from your headlights with the car itself. When the lights go by them, they think itís safe to dash out. Expect them to make this mistake and youíll be prepared to react if they do.
Dogs: 1.2 million dogs were killed on U.S. roads in 2000 and most of them were likely chasing something Ė a ball, a child, a cat, a squirrel. When you see anything that a dog might chase enter the road, look for the dog coming close behind.
Opossums: Opossums feast on roadkill, a habit that gets about 8.3 million killed each year. A large object in the road at night may be roadkill and an opossum who may either freeze in your headlights or try to run away. Opossums donít run very fast, so slow down until youíve positively identified the situation.
Rabbits: Common in late spring through early fall, a rabbit scared out of the road by the car ahead of you might circle right back into the road. A quick tap of your horn as you approach where the rabbit went may freeze him out of harmís way.
Squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits: Squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits are among the hardest species to avoid. All three evade predators when on the ground chiefly through their ability to rapidly change direction. The surest way to avoid a rabbit, chipmunk or squirrel is to stop and wait until the critter is safely out of the load. As long as you are still moving forward, the animal will continue to assess your car as a threat akin to a dog or fox, only bigger, or as a hawk, and may keep switching and reversing course. This explains why some fairly extensive studies have discovered that speed is not a factor in killing squirrels, rabbits or chipmunks. They are as likely to get hit by a slow-moving car as one going like a bat out of hell, simply because they zig-zag in the wrong direction, misguessing which way the driver will swerve. Fortunately, it is easy to anticipate when youíre likely to see rabbit, chipmunk or squirrel. Rabbits are most plentiful in lightly wooded areas or alongside brushy ditches, from the end of spring through the end of summer. They may be seen either by day or night. At night they freeze in the glare of headlights.
Chipmunks and squirrels take to the roads in greatest number at the end of summer, when windy weather at the onset of fall tends to litter roadsides with edible nuts. Chipmunks and squirrels will remain plentiful on the roads in tree-lined areas until after the first snowfall. They are usually only out in broad daylight.
Raccoons: Raccoons often travel in family groups of up to seven members, so if one raccoon is hit, the rest may stay beside her and get hit too. Raccoons also scavenge roadkills. Theyíll turn to face a sudden danger, often stepping into the path of a speeding car. Try to avoid getting their attention. Donít jam on the brakes, donít accelerate; just ease off the gas and cruise casually by.
Turtles: In spring, so many turtles are hit by cars as they migrate between breeding ponds that many species have become regionally endangered. If youíre near wetlands and see a rounded lump in the road, assume itís a turtle until you know otherwise.
Deer: More than 100 Americans are killed each year in deer/car collisions Ė and 70% of the time the driver slowed down for one deer, then stepped on the gas and hit another. Deer babies are as big as their mamas in October and November, but they are still babies, and they still follow Mama. Mamas often have two fawns, so if you see one deer, slow down and look for two more. In spring and summer, deer hide from danger. In fall, when the leaves are down, they run. More than half of all deer/car collisions occur in October and November. If you see huntersí vehicles parked by the road, watch for frightened deer running from gunfire or hunters and/or dogs driving deer.
If you see a deer bolt right in front of you in daylight or twilight during hunting season, too close even to brake, try to duck below the dashboard with a shoulder between your head and your airbag, if any, if you hit the deer hard. Driver fatalities tend to result from a deer coming through the windshield after having her legs knocked out from under her. The lower you are, the better protected you are from this type of accidentóbut no strategy is perfect. You may get hurt no matter what you do. If you miss the deer, keep your head protected by your headrest and the door post as you drive across the deerís path. Sometimes drivers are killed or wounded by hunters who (illegally) shoot across roads at deer.
Skunks: Skunks newly awakened from winter hibernation are slow to recognize danger. When threatened, their defense is to turn their backs and spray. If you see a skunk beside the road, donít slow down abruptly. The skunk may think youíve seen him and will attack. Act as if youíre minding your own business and heíll go on about minding his. In July and August, a skunk may be leading four to seven kittens across the road and they may trail up to 20 feet behind her. If you see one skunk, look for more before assuming itís safe to pass.
Snakes: Cold-blooded snakes will warm themselves on pavement in late summer, but they often canít move away quickly when a car approaches. If you see a straight object that looks like a stick in the road, assume itís a snake until you know it isnít.
Woodchucks: Woodchucks dart out on the road much like cats, hunched low to the ground to avoid being seen. Drivers, who often mistake them for cats, tend to allow enough time for a cat to cross in front of them, but that fat brown cat in the road ahead may actually be a woodchuck. A woodchuck at best moves only half as fast and 5 million woodchucks a year get hit by cars.
Frogs: In wet weather, if youíre near a pond or ditch and itís not yet cold weather, youíll likely be seeing frogs. Theyíll freeze in your headlights, so donít expect them to move. Slow down and try to drive around them.
Bears: Bears feast on roadside grass or berries, especially in remote country, so beware of thickets close to the road. When bears bolt across roads, they often fo it at a dead run, and babies follow Mama. If you see one bear, look for two more. And look out for bear-watchers who have stopped their cars in the roadway.
Beavers: In spring and early summer young beavers leave their parents to seek their own pond. They move slowly, usually at night, and can be hard to see Ė but if youíre driving near wetlands, expect them. They typically try to cross roads at culverts.
All Species: Itís easier and safer to anticipate animals in the road than it is to miss them once theyíre in front of you. Watch for sudden movement in roadside grass and shrubbery. Remember that most lines in the wood are vertical Ė if you see something horizontal, it may be an animal.