How To Deal With Animals On The Road

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

Coming across animals when you’re out driving can be quite a daunting prospect, particularly if you are a new or recently qualified driver.

Around the world, vehicle collisions with animals are incredibly common.

In the US, for example, it’s estimated that an accident involving an animal and a vehicle occurs once every 39 minutes – a startling statistic.

The UK is probably not much different. There are two types of animal collisions that can occur quite easily.

The first is with a wild animal, such as a deer, badger or fox.

These are especially common in rural areas obviously but most urban conurbations in the UK now have a population of foxes.

When these animals are active at night, they can be hard to spot and fast to move, meaning collisions can occur quite easily.

The other type of animal you need to look out for is a domesticated one.

Obviously, dogs and cats fit into this category.

Anyone who has been a passenger in a car enough times will probably have been unfortunate enough to see a dead cat at the side of the road.

Dogs off leads are also a real concern – they’re also less streetwise than cats and are more likely to run out into the road if they have an opportunity to do so.

Within the domesticated category, we should also consider horses.

Riding horses on the UK roads is pretty common now as well, and with around 3.5million regular horse riders here, it’s highly likely you will encounter a horse on the road at some point.

As ever, the best preparation for these scenarios is to do your research.

Know how to handle each situation and what to look out for.

What You Will Learn

In this guide, we’re going to look at what to do if you do encounter animals on the road.

In the case of horses, we will give you a step-by-step guide for passing them safely as well as a few things to be aware of in these situations.

We will also look at how to react if you see a warning sign which suggests animals may be around.

Everything from chickens and cows to deer and badgers can be forewarned with signage, but what should you do when you notice these signs?

As ever, we will split this up in to our easy-to-follow sections:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Video Demonstration
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

For this section of the guide, we’re going to give you two different step-by-step guides.

First, we will look at how to safely overtake a horse rider on the road.

This is important given just how common a sight that this is.

Secondly, we will briefly explain the steps you should take in the event of an animal warning sign.

Passing A Horse Rider:

  • If you spot a horse rider on the road ahead, the first thing you should do is slow right down. As you approach, your speed should be so slow that it is pretty much walking pace and ready to stop at a moment’s notice if needed.
  • Do not get too close to the riders. Horses can be spooked very easily and their instant reaction will be to run. This could lead them straight out into the middle of the road, and regardless of how experienced the rider is, there’s probably little that can be done.
  • When it is clear and safe to do so, you should check your mirrors and signal that you are going to overtake.
  • As you begin to pass, give the horse riders as wide of a berth as possible. You don’t want to pass close by to the horses as it is more likely to frighten them.
  • As you pass, avoid any puddles or causing any noises which may distract the horse or rider. This includes revving the car, playing loud music, etc.
  • Pass slowly and once passed slowly move back over into the correct lane, giving the horse as much space as possible in front.
  • Finally, as you accelerate ahead, do so gently and gradually.

Animal Warning Signs:

  • You may encounter animal warning signs in any scenario, but more often than not, they will be in rural or semi-rural areas. They are triangular shaped with a white background, red border and the black silhouette of the animal in the middle.
  • Once you observe one of these signs, you should slow down slightly. Make sure you are driving at a speed which gives you enough time to react should one suddenly appear in front of you.
  • If passing a farm, there may be additional lights on the road ahead to warn of animals crossing. If they are flashing, wait for the animals to cross before trying to continue.
  • You should continue to drive slowly and carefully through these areas. If and when you do spot an animal, slow down and – if possible – stop if there is a chance you may hit it.
  • Give the animal time to move away before trying to continue driving ahead.
  • If an animal suddenly jumps out in front of your moving car, look ahead to where you want the car to go and steer that way – do not focus on the animal itself. Also, be aware of oncoming traffic and any potential hazards around you.

Video Demonstration

Hints & Tips

Driving on roads where animals are can be tough, and for new drivers, it can be quite stressful.

You’re already new to driving, and now you have to pass an animal with its welfare in mind, as well as everything else you are trying to learn, remember and be aware of.

Here are a few little tips of things to look out for in certain situations.

Horse Riders May Give You Signals:

When you’re looking to overtake a horse rider, keep an eye on the rider themselves as well as the road and the animal.

If you’re on a part of the road where they will have a better vantage point, or perhaps they are looking to turn/cross the road, then the rider will give hand and arm signals to indicate what to do or where they are going.

Don’t Be Offended If Horse Riders Don’t Thank You:

If you pass a horse rider considerately, it can be a little annoying for inexperienced drivers if the rider does not wave to thank you.

Riders generally will wave when they can!

Their task, first and foremost, is to be in control of the horse itself, so they may require both hands on the reins at that point.

Don’t Cause An Accident To Save An Animal:

In broad terms, if you swerve to avoid a cat running across the road and in doing so collide with another vehicle, the blame for the accident will rest with you.

Of course, we all want to avoid hitting an animal with our vehicle, but it’s not always possible to do so.

Look For Reflecting Eyes:

If you’re driving at night, a great little tip for helping you identify animals that may be in the dark ahead, or off to the side of the road, is that your car headlights may reflect in its eyes.

If you see a brief little spot of light or reflection while driving at night, it may be an animal, be it a cat, fox, badger or something else entirely.

Slow down – it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Useful Information

As ever, a great port of call to find out some additional information on passing animals on the road is the Highway Code.

Specifically, it’s well worth you taking the time to read the advice for horse riders in the Highway Code (see further resources below).

While it is aimed at riders, by reading it yourself you are arming yourself with that little bit of knowledge so that you know what a rider may be looking out for or looking to do.

It could be of huge benefit!

Final Thoughts

If you encounter animals on your driving test, or even if you drive within an area where animal warning signs are present, your driving instructor will be watching out for how you handle the situation.

As usual, he is looking for you to be driving with due care and attention, be aware of your surroundings and above all else, be in control of your vehicle.

If you follow the simple steps we have outlined in this guide, and exercise some common sense, you will have nothing to worry about when this type of scenario arises.

Further Resources