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What to do if you hit an animal and need to file an insurance claim

June 7, 2024
8 mins
Deer on roadway

This article has been updated from a previous version.

No one wants to hit an animal, small or big, on the road with their car. At the very least, a collision with wildlife could cause damage to your vehicle. But it could also lead to a life-threatening collision.

But if you collide with a large animal, such as a deer or moose, will your auto insurance policy cover you for the damage?

How car insurance coverage for wildlife collisions works

If you do have the misfortune of hitting an animal, there will likely be damage to your vehicle. If collision and comprehensive coverages are part of your policy, you may be covered for that damage.

Collision insurance provides financial protection if your car is damaged in a collision with another vehicle, object, or in this case, animal. Comprehensive insurance covers you for non-collision-related damage that’s out of your control. Both coverages usually have a deductible, depending on your policy.

Read more: Does your car insurance policy include collision and comprehensive coverages?

If you have car insurance in Ontario and hit a dead animal that’s lying on the road, your collision coverage may apply. However, hitting a dead animal comes with the expectation that you should have seen it and been able to safely avoid hitting it. Meaning, it may be regarded as an at-fault collision, which can increase your premium. If an animal darts out in front of you while driving and you hit it, your comprehensive coverage applies. It is considered a not-at-fault collision; therefore, it’s unlikely to affect your premium. However, the rules on this may vary from province to province.

Be mindful of when wildlife is most active in Canada

Roadkill tends to be seasonal. You’re more likely to collide with a deer or moose, for example, in October or November during their mating season, or in the spring after they’ve given birth and are actively out foraging for food with their offspring.

Similarly, smaller animals, such as raccoons, come out of hibernation (sometimes a little dazed and confused) as the temperature rises. As a rule, fall and spring are the seasons during which you need to be extra careful about hitting wildlife.

That said, during summer months, animals are often active, especially in cottage country. Even in the city, you must be wary of small animals like squirrels, raccoons, and neighbourhood pets darting out across side streets.

While hitting a small animal is less likely to damage your vehicle in a significant way, you could swerve to avoid it and involve another vehicle in a collision.

Many drivers don’t realize that in a contest between an average-sized vehicle and a bear, moose or elk, the animal is always going to win, even though it’s likely to die in the collision. The underbelly of a moose, for example, can take the roof of a car clean off, and is usually fatal for the car’s occupants.

More than 14,000 collisions with wildlife are reported annually in Ontario, which is the highest amount in Canada.

Read next: Which weekday has the highest car collision rate in Canada?

How to avoid a collision with a wild animal

If you think it’s unlikely you’ll hit an animal with your car, think again. It is estimated that a wildlife collision occurs in Ontario every 38 minutes, and ten per cent of all collisions in the province involve large animals.

When driving, be mindful of both large animals and the smaller ones running across urban and country roads and highways. Being on alert for wildlife is ultimately part of being a responsible driver in Canada.

Wildlife collisions don’t just kill animals.

The Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) released new data in 2023, stating that between 2000 and 2020, 570 people were killed in wildlife collisions. Nearly half of these fatal collisions involved moose, nearly a third deer, and under a tenth involved bison, bears, foxes, coyotes, and other small mammals and birds.

The largest number of wildlife collisions that have caused deaths to have occurred has been in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

The foundation has created the Wildlife Roadsharing Resource Centre to offer guidance on how to navigate the roads, avoid a collision with wildlife, and what to do if you’re involved in a collision.

Their advice includes:

  • Pay attention to wildlife road signs. Areas that are prone to animal crossings will have road signs warning drivers of the threat, so keep an eye out for them, especially in less populated areas.
  • Always wear a seatbelt. You should be doing this anyway. A collision with an animal can have a similar impact to hitting another vehicle, so the same safety benefits apply.
  • Be on alert and ready to react. This is especially important during seasons in which you’re more likely to encounter wildlife on the roads, as well as at dawn or dusk.
  • Be mindful of your speed. You should always drive within the posted limit, but if you’re in an area where wildlife on the road is common, it’s even more important to stick to it, especially at night when visibility is limited. The slower you go, the more time you will have to respond.
  • Always scan your surroundings. Animals can dart out of nowhere quickly. Be aware of your surroundings while driving through forested areas. You can also take advantage of passengers in the vehicle as they can provide another set of eyes.
  • If you see one animal, there’s probably more. Many animals tend to travel in groups, so don’t assume you’re out of danger after avoiding one.

If you do encounter an animal on the road, stay calm. Take your foot off the gas and gently brake. Use your hazard lights to alert the cars behind you that there’s something up ahead. Be careful when using your horn, as it could startle the animal and prompt it to flee into traffic or charge at your vehicle.

As a rule, you should resist the urge to swerve because it could make matters worse. You might lose control of your car, hit other vehicles, or even pedestrians or cyclists.

If a collision with a large animal is unavoidable, do what you can to lessen the impact. Aim to graze the animal instead by taking your foot off the gas, carefully braking and keeping a firm grip on the steering wheel.

What to do if you have a collision with wildlife

Hitting an animal on the road is like any other collision. Pull over to a safe location and turn on your hazard lights. Your priority should be to check to see if anyone in the car is hurt and call emergency services if help is needed. If you need to get out of your car, stay off the road and be aware of oncoming traffic.

Depending on where you live and even if there are no injuries, you may be required to contact the police. If you strike a large animal, or if another vehicle was involved in the collision, you will need to report it. At the very least, police should be called if the animal is injured, blocking traffic, or is creating a hazard for other drivers.

As for your vehicle, be sure it is drivable before leaving the scene — even if the damage seems minimal. You can do this by scanning for leaking fluid, broken lights or other signs of damage. If there’s any indication that it’s unsafe to drive, call for a tow truck.

It is important to call your car insurance provider as soon as possible after the collision should you need to file a claim.

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Gary Hilson

Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has produced thousands of words for print and pixel about business and technology for a variety of publications and corporate clients. When he’s not tapping on the keyboard, Gary collects comic books, attends live theater, constructs Lego, and buys books he always intends to read.

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