Law Office of Lowell Steiger

Fatalities on the Rise in Vehicle-Animal Crashes

Author: Lowell Steiger

Published On: November 2, 2008

I was fascinated by the Associated Press report which begins with “Fatalities from vehicle crashes with deer and other animals have more than doubled over the last 15 years…” Click here to read the entire story.

Being an animal lover, it pains me to think that the phrase “deer caught in the headlights” has real life and death consequences both for the deer and unsuspecting motorists and their passengers. But is it just the deer? What about farm animals who unwittingly escape the confines of the land in which they live? And the dog or cat whose owner turned their head for just a moment in time and then lose their precious pet? I for one won’t let my Beagle Pedro out the door without a leash because, once outside, he will follow his nose and not my commands. When he’s sleeping he looks perfectly sane

But Beagles, and other dogs, follow their nose. The bottom line is we must protect our innocent pets from themselves. But I digress…

So I started doing a little research on Vehicle-Animal crashes. The Wilderness Medical Society authored the fascinating article Risk Factors Associated With Fatal Animal-Vehicle Collisions in the United States, 1995-2004. In that article, they come to the following conclusion: “The number of fatal animal-vehicle collisions is increasing. Various methods to reduce such collisions are described, with fencing appearing to be the most effective. The use of personal restraints such as seat belts in passenger vehicles and helmets for motorcycle and all-terrain-vehicle riders may decrease fatalities during a collision.” Click here to read the entire study.

In California, we have the Doctrine of Imminent Peril which states ““[A] person who, without negligence on his part, is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with peril, arising from either the actual presence, or the appearance, of imminent danger to himself or to others, is not expected nor required to use the same judgment and prudence that is required of him in the exercise of ordinary care in calmer and more deliberate moments.” Leo v. Dunham (1953) 41 Cal.2d 712, 714 This is a doctrine that can be invoked by either the plaintiff or defendant in a case. For example, this would apply to an auto accident where someone swerved to avoid an animal in the road. The person causing that imminent danger, for example a rancher whose fences are in disrepair and, as a result of that disrepair an animal winds up in the middle of the highway causing an accident, can be held liable for the injuries caused by that accident.

Below are some related links:

  • Highway Loss Date Institute: Collisions with deer and other animals spike in November; fatal crashes up 50% since 2000. Anne McCartt, IIHS’s senior vice president for research, provides this poignant conclusion:
  • “A majority of the people killed in these crashes weren’t killed by contact with the animal,” McCartt says. “As with other kinds of crashes, safety belts and motorcycle helmets could have prevented many of the deaths.”
  • Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association which discussed Driver Safety Tips; If You Hit an Animal; Colorado Statistics; National Statistics and provides Other Resources. The most heartbreaking, but practical, tip that they provide states “If you cannot stop in time, unfortunate as it may be, it is usually safer to hit the animal than to swerve. Swerving may land you in the path of another car or off the road in a ditch.”
  •  AP New Report Video: Fatalities Rising in US Vehicle-animal Crashes
  • Do Not Crash Trying To Avoid Animals Video: Sad but graphic video.

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