What types of animals can cause road traffic accidents in the UK?

Collisions with cars can involve domestic animals like dogs and cats, which may have escaped from their owners on a walk or from their home, or they could be strays.

Large animals like horses, donkeys and mules may be on the road being ridden by people or used in animal-drawn vehicles (like carts and carriages), or could have escaped from their field.

Agricultural animals like sheep, goats, pigs and cows may also break out of their fields and barns and present a danger to road users. Wild animals like deer, foxes, badgers, rabbits and animals often live in the areas directly adjoining roads, such as fields, woodlands and hedgerows, and could easily stray out into the road, especially during mating seasons and during dawn and dusk, which are their most active times. Sadly these times also coincide with the traffic rush hours.

What to do if you have a traffic collision with an animal

The law has some interesting definitions of ‘an animal’, so what you’re legally obliged to do depends on what kind of animal you have a car accident with.

If it’s a: By law, you’re required to:
  • dog
  • horse
  • donkeys
  • mule
  • goat
  • cow
  • sheep
  • pig
  • Stop your vehicle.
  • Inform the police immediately.
  • Stay at the scene of the accident until the police allow you to leave. This will usually be after they’ve attended the scene of the accident.

 

If it’s any other type of animal, such as: You should:
  • cat
  • deer
  • fox
  • badger
  • rodent
  • Inform the police. Although this isn’t a legal requirement, it’s a good idea if the animal is dead – as they may need to inform the local authority to arrange disposal of the animal’s body.
  • If the animal is still alive, contact a wildlife rescue organisation that can help with vet treatment.

 

At the scene of any road traffic accident involving an animal, you’re advised to:

  • Stay safe: set up a hazard area, and move yourself and the animal (if possible) out of the path of oncoming vehicles.
  • Only approach the animal if it’s safe to do so. Be aware that an injured animal – particularly a wild one – may feel very frightened and defensive, and possibly respond aggressively to you.
  • If it’s a domestic animal that’s not aggressive, keep it warm and calm, but don’t offer it food or water. This could interfere with any medical treatment.
  • Take photos of the situation, including the location, weather and visibility conditions, condition of the animal, any injuries you’ve sustained and any damage to your vehicle.
  • Take the contact details of any witnesses who will be able to provide the police (and possibly insurers) with more information on exactly what happened before, during and after the accident.

How many road traffic accidents involve animals?

Wild deer

The UK National Deer-Vehicle Collisions Project estimates that over 74,000 deer may be involved in vehicle collisions each year in Britain. 10 and 20 people are killed and over 700 injured every year as a result of accidents involving deer, either through direct collisions or swerving to avoid deer. The cost of damage to vehicles alone is estimated to be at least £17 million. 80 per cent of deer-related vehicle collisions in the UK occur in England, with the highest numbers recorded in the South East, where traffic levels are highest.

Horses

The British Horse Society believes that road accidents involving horses are significantly under-reported, a view supported by data the Hospital Episode Statistics Online. The HES data surrounding external causes of visits to hospital in 2011–12 reported 4,199 episodes requiring treatment in hospital for ‘animal – rider or occupant animal drawn vehicle injured in transport accident’.

What is the law on animals and liability for damage in road traffic accidents?

Liability for animals is covered by the Animals Act 1971. This is where the definition of animals come from – and where cats are, strangely, excluded in the definition of an animal.

In the Animals Act, animals are classed as dangerous or non-dangerous species.

Dangerous species

A dangerous species is one that isn’t commonly domesticated to the UK, and is likely, when fully grown, to cause severe damage unless restrained.

The law is fairly clear cut for dangerous animals: the keeper (or owner) of the animal is strictly liable for any damage caused by that animal, whether or not it was caused the keeper/owner’s negligence. That doesn’t have to relate to the animal’s direct actions, such as straying onto the road, or attacking, but even if the vehicle it’s being transported in causes a traffic accident.

For this reason all keepers of dangerous wild animals are required under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 to be licensed by their local authority (the council) and to take out insurance against liability for damage to third parties.

Non-dangerous species

Litigation using the Animals Act for non-dangerous species is notoriously complicated, since there are numerous tests that a case must pass before clear liability can be shown on the part of the owner or keeper of the non-dangerous animal. These tests are:

  • The likelihood test – the likelihood that the animal, if unrestrained, was to cause this damage, and that if it did cause that damage, the damage would likely be severe.
  • The characteristics test – whether or not this damage was due to characteristics of the animal not usually seen in other animals of the same species (ie, like another cow) or may only happen in certain situations. For example, has the animal behaved in an especially strange way that is not normally associated with that species’ usual behaviour?
  • The knowledge test – whether these characteristics were known to the keeper of the animal at.

Defences to owner/keeper liability

There are, of course, substantial exceptions to the liability of a non-dangerous animal’s keeper. For example, the animal’s keeper or owner could use these defences to prove they aren’t liable:

  • The damage caused was wholly the fault of the person suffering it
  • The person who suffered the damages was aware of the risks and voluntarily assumed them (except when that person did this as a regular part of their job)
  • The damage was suffered by someone trespassing on the property, and the animal concerned wasn’t kept as a guard animal, or it being kept as a guard animal was reasonable and justified.

Can you claim for compensation if animal caused your road traffic accident?

If the animal is owned:

Dogs and cats are usually pets who will have an owner. In many cases they may be microchipped, enabling identification of the owner. Livestock such as horses, cows, sheep, goats and pigs will be owned by someone – usually a farmer or local landowner.

Occasionally, a deer may be owned, especially if it’s escaped from a venison farm where deer are bred for meat. If that’s the case, it may have some identifier on it such as an ear tag. However, for the most part, deer are presumed to be wild animals unless otherwise proven.

If the cause of the traffic accident can be proven to be the clear liability of the animal’s owner, through their negligent action, then you may have a case to claim for compensation.

What if the animal is killed? Can I still claim against the owner?

If the animal is killed and the accident was not your fault, you may be able to claim compensation from the owner or keeper, if it can be proven that their actions were negligent and led to the animal causing the accident.

If the animal is wild:

It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to claim compensation if a wild animal caused your collision. Wild animals like wild deer and foxes aren’t owned by anyone, so it would be difficult to prove that someone else’s negligence caused them to be on the road. They are, of course, wild, which means they go where they please – and that can include the road!

If I accidentally hit a domesticated animal with my car, do I have to pay for the animal’s vet treatment?

You’re only legally liable for the vet treatment bills if the accident is found to be your fault (ie, caused by your reckless driving).

If you hit a wild animal and take it to an animal rescue or specialist vet, you won’t necessarily have to pay any vet bills. The medical treatment of wild animals at independent rescues is usually funded by charitable donations.

What next?

If you’ve had a road traffic accident involving an owned or domesticated animal, you could make a claim for compensation.

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