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Swerving might save the animal but may cause driver crashes

Related topic: Dealing with Injured Wildlife

Wombats & Kangaroos sign ahead

Swerving to avoid hitting an animal on the road is a major cause of serious and fatal accidents, researchers have found.

For many drivers the immediate response is to swerve to avoid the animal.

While that may save the life of the animal, it's not necessarily the best tactic to protect the driver.

Daniel Ramp is a research fellow at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

The researchers conducted a study aimed at quantifying the number of injuries and deaths caused by road accidents involving animals.

"One of the big problems in causing serious crashes is people swerving," he said.

"Drive slower. If you see an animal on the road, try and keep the vehicle straight and brake.

"It's a terrible thing but it's better to hit that animal than try to swerve to miss it. The likelihood that the people will suffer serious injuries goes down if you don't swerve."

After years of looking at the effect of road accidents on animals, Dr Ramp and a colleague have turned their attention to the impact on people.

They found there were more than 5,000 road accidents involving animals in New South Wales in the decade between 1996 and 2005.

Seventeen-thousand people were injured in the crashes and 22 people killed. But Dr Ramp says the real toll is likely to be higher.

"People swerve to miss animals and then hit trees so we think the numbers actually are quite higher," he said.

The researchers have also found that kangaroos and wallabies are involved in about 60 per cent of the accidents that resulted in human deaths.

Straying livestock and horses made up the rest.

"We identified hotspots for straying stock collisions. We identified hotspots for kangaroo collisions and what that enables the Government and managers to do, is to target those areas and say 'OK, we've got a lot of livestock being killed in this particular area, what can we do about it?'" he said.

None of the research comes as a surprise to Vickii Lett, who is an animal carer with the Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES).

"We have roads that run through bushland and rural areas and people tend to travel quite quickly on those roads," she said.

"Many people travel at night and fortunately we still have many native animals living in our environment ... many of them are nocturnal so they move around at night."

In the past two years alone WIRES has recorded 3,040 kangaroos and wallabies involved in road accidents in New South Wales along with nearly 8,000 other animals.

Ms Lett says she avoids car crashes with animals by staying off the road at certain times.

"Around dusk and dawn is the highest level of interaction between car and animal, and at night. So things are crossing the road," she said.

"The other thing you need to be aware of, I suppose, is that the runoff from the road makes those roadside verges have quite nice, green pick and so animals tend to hang about there to graze."

And while she's dedicated to looking after animals, Ms Lett agrees drivers should not swerve when confronted with one on the road.

"I did swerve once to miss a dog actually and managed to end up barely missing a telegraph pole; so in hindsight it was a fairly silly thing to do," she said.

Related topic: Dealing with Injured Wildlife


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