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Defensive Driving—I Brake for Animals!

Posted by at 5:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)


Defensive Driving—I Brake for Animals! By Alisa MullinsRemember that popular 80s video game, Frogger? The poor frog had to cross a busy highway, a cycling lane, and a canal to reach the bushes on the other side. I always felt sorry for Frogger, even though if he got squished, you could simply re-set the game, no harm done. That’s not the case with real animals, of course. If we drive recklessly or pay more attention to our coffees and our cell phones than to the road, animals-and people-can get killed.

Even the most cautious drivers can’t always avoid accidents, but if you drive defensively, you can reduce your chances of hitting loose dogs or cats—or frogs, deer, opossums, and other critters who creep onto the road, just trying to make it to the other side. To help make sure everyone reaches their destination safely, follow these simple tips:

  • Always keep your eyes on the road: This goes without saying, but a reminder never hurts!
  • Obey the speed limit: If you’re driving like you’re in the Indy 500, you won’t be able to stop quickly if an animal runs onto the road. (Don’t worry: you can always drive a racecar at an amusement park.)
  • Watch for warning signs: When you see those yellow “animal crossing” signs near parks and wooded areas, keep your eyes peeled for deer, ducks, and other wildlife. It’s easy to have a collision when you’re driving around curvy roads or near waterways and other places where animals congregate.
  • Stop if you see “suspicious-looking” bags or boxes by the side of the road: Believe it or not, they may have animals inside. Cruel people sometimes dump unwanted kittens or puppies on the side of the road (animals have even been thrown from moving vehicles), so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Be prepared to help if you encounter an animal in distress: Keep an animal rescue kit in your car at all times. The kit should include a carrier, leash, towel, treats, wet and dry cat food, and directions to local animal control agencies, emergency veterinary hospitals, and wildlife rehabilitators. Carry one of those fold-up sunshades too. It can be used to corral a wild animal into a carrier or away from a dangerous area.
  • If you see a turtle or other small animal trying to cross the road, help them along in the direction that they were heading—they know where they’re going, and they might march right back into traffic if you return them to the side of the road that they started on. Small turtles (and tortoises) can be handled easily, but snapping turtles should be carried by the rear of their shells or very gently by both hind legs.
  • Make sure that “dead” animals lying by the side of the road are actually dead: They may appear dead when you’re whizzing by at 30 miles per hour, but sometimes they’re just stunned or hurt. And if a “wild” animal has been killed by a car, he or she may have babies nearby. A PETA staffer once found a dead opossum by the side of the road, and she still had live babies in her pouch. (See this great post by Ingrid E. Newkirk for more information on what to do if you find an injured or orphaned animal.)

In 2004, the City Council in Wellington, New Zealand, passed a bylaw requiring motorists to pull over and help injured animals, including hedgehogs and rats. A regulatory committee chairperson said that anyone hitting an animal and not “rendering assistance” would officially be breaching the bylaw and could be fined up to $20,000.

While I don’t see a law like this passing in America anytime soon, I know that there are plenty of kind people who voluntarily “brake for animals.” Are you one of them?

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    Steve says...

    April 15th, 2009, 4:59 pm

    Many years ago, I had a bright orange bumper sticker that said “Warning: I brake for animals,” but I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. Perhaps we should bring them back, with a PETA logo.

    Daisy Hardiman says...

    April 17th, 2009, 1:57 pm

    The bumper sticker! I’ve never seen one of those, but I’ll use one if I find it -Wonderful Idea-

    Daisy Hardiman says...

    April 17th, 2009, 2:05 pm

    It’s sad to say, but I know many people that will actually try to kill animals they see in the road, and even worse, I’ve heard truckers bragging about their road kill scorers. Others, very close to me love fur coats, and they do not care about the animals as long as they can have that coat. It is a sad world, and all these people treat me as if I am obsessed. I do not like them any more, but it is hard to get away from the ones that are family members. Any advise?

    Alyce says...

    April 17th, 2009, 5:30 pm

    A friend of mine told me about a guy to passed a dead cat on the side of the road, later in the day he passed the cat again – and it moved slightly. He stopped the car and tried to help the cat but it was frozen to the road. He had to work for a long time to remove the cat from the road but he did. He took it to a wonderful woman that runs a no-kill cat shelter and she is currently nursing it back to health.

    I’d like that bumper sticker too!

    Michelle says...

    April 17th, 2009, 6:30 pm

    Many years ago, I nearly wrecked my husbands Corvette while avoiding a tarantula crossing the road. Luckily for all of us I’m a pretty good driver and avoided killing the spider, the car and myself! To this day, I would happily crash if it meant saving the life of an animal and my husband actually held up traffic recently to let a racoon and her babies cross the road! What a guy!!!!

    Isabelle says...

    April 18th, 2009, 1:12 pm

    The bumper sticker!!! I want on, great idea.

    Isabelle says...

    April 18th, 2009, 1:16 pm

    Dear Daisy, i hear you…. I also know “friend” who like killing cats by side of the road for fun….. I have no idea what to tell you, i sure know that it is very sad the way humans act.

    Best to you.

    Jen says...

    April 18th, 2009, 8:07 pm

    I am so glad to see this article. I get made fun of constantly for braking for animals. (which by the way, I don’t care if they make fun or not, I’m still going to put on the brakes!)
    When it rains, little frogs get into the street to keep from being flooded and I always drive slowly and avoid them.
    I love to get out and help turtles cross the road.

    One time I was going to help a turtle cross the road, I pulled off of the road, but there was 1 car coming that I had to wait for. They ran over the turtle and killed it on purpose probably to spite me.

    I’m happy that there are some of us out there that are careful and
    helpful!!

    Vicky says...

    April 19th, 2009, 12:25 am

    I too break for animals. Recently it was for two deer crossing. They were does and if I hadn’t stopped I would have certainly hit the second one. I not only keep my eyes to the road but watch the burm since squirrels tend to run as fast as they can to get to the other side. There are far too many cruel people who do purposely hit the animals if they can. I will never understand why. I am proud to break or go back to make sure all is well with one.

    Elisabeth says...

    April 19th, 2009, 7:58 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this article.
    I nearly got my head taken off by a transport truck on a 4 lane highway trying to rescue a snapping turtle.
    I knew that it was trying to cross all 4 lanes and make it to the other side.
    I had to wait for a break in the traffic (twice) in order to take the turtle where he/she wanted to go.
    The turtle was extremely strong and kept trying to turn around and bite me.
    I was 45 minutes late for a doctors appointment, and showed up with slime all over my hands and sweater but I did save the turtle.

    In a country in Europe (I’m not sure which one) they have tunnels that go underneath the highways (and possibly fencing along the highways, but I’m not sure on that) so that wildlife can get where they want to go without being killed/injured on the road.

    Bobbie Mitchell says...

    February 25th, 2010, 2:13 am

    YES!! YES!! YES!!.The Bumper Sticker…I had one of them many years ago, and have been looking for them for a very long time now!! PLEASE…Make it available again. I would buy several of them because I have several friends that would like to have one, and I would too obviously. As stated, it had an orange background with black, bold lettering. I am FOREVER braking for all kinds of animals, and have been told by some police officers it would be a good idea to have one on my car. It “is considered fair warning” to the drivers behind me “just in case”. How can we get them back??

    Devin says...

    May 6th, 2010, 11:32 am

    Jen, frogs do not go into the road when it rains to avoid flooding… their amphibians and have no problem with water.

    Colleen says...

    November 11th, 2010, 7:42 pm

    I brake for everything. Deers, opposums, raccoons, squirrels, frogs, mice, you name it. Besides braking, whether you can help them or not depends on the road you’re on. For example, when on straight country roads with little traffic, I routinely pull over and get frogs or the occasional turtle off the road. Heck, I’ve even pulled over for real cute catepillars. Seriously. On bigger roads with faster speeds or roads that curve so oncoming traffic cannot see you, you’re not allowed that luxury.

    I’ve rescued so many animals from the road I’m told I should write a book. Just this last month, for example, my husband was driving and we went by a squirrel on the yellow line in the middle of a very busy road. He looked dead but his body was still “full”. You have to make the decision in a split second. I said, “Turn around. I’m gonna check on him.” The husband is familiar with the routine. He stops traffic in one direction with his truck. I have a bright yellow construction jacket I keep in the truck just for my animal rescues. I throw that on and stop traffic in the other direction. I approach the squirrel. I normally will pet the critter gently to see if there is a reaction and from that reaction I can quickly gauge whether they are alive and in what state they are in. This squirrel, body still down in the middle of the road, opens his eyes as I approach. I stroke the fur on his back and he POPS UP, runs right out of the road and into the woods on the other side. I watch him as he climbs up a tree then turns back and sees all the fuss he created. The darn squirrel was completely fine! Who knows, maybe knocked out by a car then came to and was in the middle of the road or ???

    The next week I saw a opposum on the side of the road, seemed dead but again looked “full”. It was a curvy road with a hill which requires special stopping skills and lots of lady balls, forgive my French. In my yellow construction jacket, I drive slow with my blinkers on as I approach the spot so that traffic is already lined up and slowed behind me. I stop just before the opposum, get out and direct traffic to go around me. You cannot care if people get pissed (though surprisingly they rarely do). I check on the possum, sure enough, it’s alive but it’s mouth is bleeding and jaw looks dislocated. Road rash on it’s paw. It can walk but barely. Opposums are noctural and it’s the middle of the day so it’s probably been there all day. You make the decision in a split second. I keep a cage and gloves in the back of the truck. I always talk to the animal gently as I approach and while I handle them. I put a towel over him and pick him up, put him in the cage and take him to the vet. If the vets tell me there is even a chance the critter can heal and survive, I take them back to where I found them and let nature take its course. The vet confirmed it’s jaw was severely dislocated. It would starve to death before the jaw healed. I pet him gently and whispered to him, they put him down. Better than dying a slow, cruel, agonizing death by the side of the road.

    I’ve been driving for 25 years now and have never hit an animal. Knock on wood I can go another 25! I’m sure a lot of it is luck, but my #1 piece of advice is …..If you are driving slowly to watch for animals DO NOT SPEED UP if you are pressured by the driver behind you. Let them pass you. So what if you have a line of cars behind you. You must not allow yourself to feel pressured by it. YOU are often the only hope these animals have for a safe crossing.

    A big thumbs up to everyone who brakes for animals!

    Phoebe says...

    September 3rd, 2012, 1:55 pm

    I still have that bumper sticker. :)

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