Car versus moose: how to avoid wildlife accidents

With the wintery conditions, RCMP urges that everyone drive with extra care to avoid wildlife accidents.

  • Dec. 9, 2015 4:00 p.m.

Barbara Latkowski

Caledonia Courier

With the wintery conditions, RCMP urges that everyone drive with extra care to avoid wildlife accidents.

According to Police, it’s just a matter of slowing down and giving yourself lots of time to react in case you are confronted with an animal on the roads.

On Highway 16, from Prince George to Prince Rupert, about 750 wildlife accidents happen in a given year.

Approximately 42% of those collisions involve moose and 36% are deer related.

Sponsored by the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program, here are some driving tips to help avoid accidents with wildlife this winter:

How Can Drivers Reduce the Chances of Having a Wildlife Vehicle Collision?

Watch for the Signs

A Wildlife Warning Sign is a yellow diamond shaped sign. The sign warns of a hazard ahead, and advises drivers to be cautious. The sign does not require drivers to slow down to a particular speed, unless there is an adjacent speed limit sign posted as well.

BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure collects and interprets data on collision locations and places signs in areas of frequent wildlife use or high collision risk locations.

Drivers must obey wildlife warning signs and any associated speed changes. The signs are located in high wildlife use areas. Drivers must not disregard the signs even if they have been seen many times before. Driver complacency is dangerous.

Reduce Speed

Speed is one of the most common factors in vehicle collisions. Speed:

  • Reduces the drivers ability to steer away from objects in the roadway
  • Extends the distance required to stop
  • Increases the force of impact, in the event of a collision

With good road conditions, drivers tend to increase their speed. Some studies suggest that wildlife vehicle collisions occur more than expected on clear nights, on dry road conditions and on long straight stretches. Drivers may tend to be more cautious on curves or in poor weather

By maintaining the posted speed, drivers can compensate for increased risk.

Think “What If…?”

  • Mental preparation is a useful tool.
  • Think about and predict what you might do if an animal suddenly darted out in front of you or ran towards your vehicle.
  • It is better to think about and learn how to avoid an encounter with wildlife, than have to react to a dangerous situation when you are unprepared.

Drive Defensively

Drivers and passengers should actively watch for:

  • wildlife – on the road, in the ditch, on the shoulder, and in the right of way
  • movement on or alongside the road
  • shining eyes, which will be your head lights reflecting off the animal’s eyes. NOTE: Moose are so tall that their eyes are normally above the beams of most vehicle head lights, and so are less likely to reflect the light
  • Flickering head lights of oncoming cars or tail lights of the vehicles in front of you – which may be an animal crossing the road
  • Roadside reflectors that disappear/reappear, which might indicate an animal crossing in front of them Watch out between dusk and dawn. Light levels are low, and animals are active.

There does seem to be some evidence that animals that approach from the right side are avoided more successfully than animals that approach from the left, as drivers head lights illuminate that portion of the road better, and drivers pay close attention to the right hand side of the road and the ditch – so remember to pay equal attention to both the right and left hand sides of the road.

Think about the landscape that you are driving through. Is it good habitat for wildlife? Studies show that problem locations are where creeks intersect roads, areas where there is good roadside habitat nearby and long straight stretches (because people tend to speed up).

Steer Clear – To Swerve or Not to Swerve?

If smaller animals such as deer are in your way – think carefully. Is it safe to swerve?

Do not take unsafe evasive actions. Serious accidents can occur when drivers lose control of their vehicles trying to avoid an animal. Always reduce your speed in signed areas. Driving at a slower speed may mean it is not necessary to swerve at all. Swerving can take you into the path of an oncoming vehicle or into the ditch.

If a deer is in your way, consider using your brakes, not your wheel.

If you have to choose between swerving or striking a moose, consider swerving. A collision with a moose, which can weigh up to 500 kgs (1200 lbs), carries a significant risk of injury or death to motorists and passengers. If a crash with a moose is inevitable, crouch as low as possible in your seat, or under the dash, as a moose’s body usually ends up crushing the roof of a car completely flat.

Use Your Vehicle

  • Maintain your vehicle  – Keep head lights, signal lights, and tail lights clean and in good working order.
  • Clean your windshield, inside and out, once a week, or more if someone smokes, and check and repair windshield wiper blades.
  • Keep headlights properly aligned to avoid blinding other drivers and optimize road coverage. Keep your headlights clear of dirt and road salt residue. Check the condition of the headlight lenses in the spring and fall and clean, repair or replace if they are cloudy or scratched.
  • Wear your seatbelt at all times.
  • Honk your horn or flash your lights to scare animals off the road. This may scare a deer off the road, but does not usually work for moose.
  • In a 3 lane situation, when it is safe to do so, and when it is not impeding other traffic, drive in the middle lane to provide more distance from the ditch.
  • Use high beams when it is safe to do so, and scan the road ahead with quick glances.
  • At night, use the high beams of the vehicle in front of you to extend your effective sight distance.


Electronic Stability Control

Electronic Stability Control (“ESC”) helps you maintain control of your vehicle in emergency avoidance manoeuvres such as swerving around wildlife.   ESC detects and corrects loss of vehicle control.  If you skid, ESC works together with your antilock braking system and automatically applies braking to the correct wheel to help you regain control.  ESC reacts instantly, often correcting your direction before you know you are skidding.

Seat belts and air bags help people survive crashes. However, the safest vehicle is the one that does not crash.  ESC is profoundly effective in preventing crashes.  The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) states in a news release on June 13, 2006 that ESC reduces the risk of:

  • All single vehicle crashes by about 50%;
  • Fatal single vehicle rollovers of SUVs by 80%;
  • Fatal single vehicle rollovers of cars by 80%; and
  • All types of fatal crashes by 43%.

ESC is now standard on 2012 and later models and is sold under many trade names such as Electronic Stability Program, Vehicle Skid Control, Vehicle Stability Assist, Vehicle Dynamic Control, Stabilitrak, Advance Trac, and others.  ESC works in cars, vans, SUV’s, pickup trucks, buses, commercial trucks, and tractor trailers.

ESC helps you avoid wildlife and unexpected road hazards.  ESC works on snow, ice, rain, gravel, or dry pavement.  ESC is most effective in preventing serious crashes; the loss of control and rollover situations that maim or kill people.  ESC helps keep you on the road and other drivers in their own lane.

Many experts worldwide describe ESC as “the most important auto safety innovation since seat belts.” Check out Electronic Stability Control the next time you buy a new vehicle.

As of September 1, 2011, Canada requires all new passenger vehicles (trucks, cars, and vans up to 10,000 lbs) to have Electronic Stability Control.

What Should Drivers do if They See Wildlife on the Road?

  • Slow Down – collision avoidance and driver response time are improved at slower speeds
  • Anticipate unpredictable behaviour from all wildlife
  • Determine what the animal is doing and where it is going
  • Some animals travel in groups – where there is one animal, there may be more. Watch for doe/fawn or moose cow/calf pairs.

What if a Crash is Inevitable?

In certain conditions, there is no real choice except to strike the animal.

If it appears impossible to avoid the animal:

  • Aim for the spot the animal is coming from, not where it is going.
  • Look where you want to go, not at the animal. You tend to drive where you look – if you are looking at the animal, that is where the vehicle tends to go.
  • If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit.
  • Brake firmly and quickly, then look, and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle.
  • Let up on the brake just before you hit the animal. This causes the front end of your vehicle to rise and reduces the chances of the animal coming through your windshield.

What Should Drivers Do If They Have A Collision With Wildlife?

This depends on the type and condition of the road, the amount of traffic, the type of animal, and the condition of the driver.

  • Pull off the road.
  • Turn on hazard lights.
  • Illuminate the animal with your head lights.
  • Warn other drivers if there is a carcass on the road which poses a hazard.


  • You may choose to carefully approach the animal to determine if it is dead or injured.
  • If it is injured, back off. A wounded animal can be very dangerous. You are not required to put an injured animal out of its misery.

Injured animals are very dangerous.


You may choose to remove a dead animal from the road so that it does not present a hazard to other drivers.

Only remove the animal if it is safe to do so, and you are physically capable of doing so.

  • Inspect your vehicle to see if it safe to continue driving.
  • Call the RCMP if there is damage over $1000 or any human injuries.
  • Call the Conservation Officer Service if there is a dead or injured

animal to report.

In BC – 1.877.952.7277

  • In a National Park, like Jasper, Banff, Kootenay etc., contact the Park Wardens. Even if your vehicle is not damaged, reporting the exact location helps wardens monitor injured animals and recover dead ones. Quick removal prevents other animals from being attracted to the highway.
  • Report vehicle damage to your insurance company.

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