How to drive safely around wildlife and minimise injuries

Kangaroos crossing the road


Posted February 22, 2024

Wildlife Victoria data shows that the number of animals killed or injured by a vehicle has surged in the last four years, but the true number is likely to be much higher.

Victorian drivers are being urged to be mindful of wildlife when driving with 10,643 native animals reported hit by a vehicle (HBV) on the state's roads during the 2022-23 financial year according to data from wildlife rescue service Wildlife Victoria, a 15 per cent increase from the previous year.

The total number of wildlife hit by vehicles is likely much higher, since many incidents are either called in to other authorities or not called in at all.

The rise in animals hit by vehicles is a reminder for drivers to know what to do should they come across wildlife while driving. This knowledge can help minimise injuries to both road users and wildlife.

Wildlife Victoria CEO, Lisa Palma, says that while you’re driving on the roads, there are three things drivers can do. "Firstly, keep Wildlife Victoria’s phone number in your phone (03 8400 7300) and call us to report any sick, injured or orphaned wildlife that you may come across. Our Emergency Response Service will provide free advice and assistance 24/7.

"Secondly, look out for wildlife and drive at a safe speed that reduces your chance of hitting an animal. And thirdly, if you can avoid driving at dusk and dawn, please do. Many of our native species are most active at dusk and through the night."

A graph showing the number of animals hit by vehicles on Victorian roads

Hit by vehicle reports to Wildlife Victoria have increased every year (except 2019/20) since 2017. Image: Supplied

How to drive safely around wildlife

Wildlife can appear unexpectedly while driving, so stay alert and drive carefully at all times. Motorists that often travel in areas near native habitats may benefit from additional driver training that reinforces simple steps to be safer on the road.

If something doesn’t look, sound or feel right with your car and you suspect a collision with an animal, pull into a service station or park well off the road and call your emergency roadside assistance provider.

Increase alertness at dawn and dusk

Silvia Morris, Senior Instructor for RACV Drive School, says that it’s important to be particularly aware around dawn and dusk. This is when many native animals search for food.

“The safest option is to plan your trip to avoid driving in these higher risk times,” Morris says. "If that’s not possible, alter your driving to account for these conditions. Reduce your speed to give you greater response time and braking distance which could help you avoid an animal collision, and actively look ahead and to the sides of the road to see any animals nearby or approaching.”

High beams can be used at night when visibility is poorer, but only on roads where oncoming traffic is uncommon. Remember to dim your lights if you see a car approaching.

Beware of roadsides

Whenever you’re driving outside built-up areas, or in new housing estates near native habitat, it’s important to watch for wildlife warning signs. Scan both the road and the roadsides, where many native animals graze due to water run-off.

Don't swerve

If you do spot an animal on the road while driving, slow down and prepare to brake if necessary. Avoid trying to swerve around it. Not only will this likely frighten the animal and cause it to behave erratically, you could also endanger yourself and other road users.

“Swerving can cause you to lose control of your vehicle and potentially come off the road or hit another vehicle or a tree,” Morris says. “If an animal has appeared unexpectedly and you do not have time to stop, brake as hard as you can and then release the brake just before impact to try and prevent the animal coming over the bonnet.”

Scanning the road ahead is the best way to give you enough time to slow down and steer around the animal in a controlled manner, or even stop if it’s safe. But if you can’t safely avoid the animal, you may have to hit it to avoid injuring yourself and others.


echidna crossing a road

Animals being hit by vehicles happens all across Victoria. Image: Getty

Increasing wildlife injuries and deaths

“Wildlife Victoria is seeing increases in wildlife being hit by vehicles every year," says Wildlife Victoria CEO, Lisa Palma. "This is due to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and urbanisation. As habitat for wildlife decreases, wildlife becomes increasingly pushed into urbanised areas, resulting in more interactions with people and roads."

Animals being hit by vehicles isn’t a just a problem for regional and rural drivers, either. These incidents happen across the state, including within the suburbs of metropolitan Melbourne.

In 2017-18, Wildlife Victoria reported a total of 6,007 native animals hit by drivers in Victoria. That number has grown every year since, with the exception of 2019-20 - likely due to the onset of COVID-19 and consequent lockdowns leading to fewer drivers on the road.

Animals most commonly hit by vehicles in Victoria

Data from Wildlife Victoria shows that eastern grey kangaroos represent almost 65 per cent of native wildlife hit by a vehicle (HBV) on Victorian roads during the 2022-23 financial year, with 6,904 recorded incidents.

Kangaroos are more active at dawn and dusk (when visibility is typically poorer) and often cross busy roads in search of the best grazing land. Grass close to roads also tends to be greener and fresher due to water runoff, making it an attractive meal to kangaroos and other grazing animals.

The next most common native animals were swamp wallabies (790 reports), followed by bare-nosed wombats (538), ringtail possums (447), and brushtail possum (318). Further down the list was magpies (271), sulphur-crested cockatoos (226), koalas (221), galahs (167), and echidnas (147).


A graph showing the most common animals hit by vehicles on Victorian roads

Kangaroos are the most common species of wildlife hit by vehicles every year, accounting for more than half of the reports. Image: Supplied

What to do if you hit an animal while driving

Accidents happen to even the safest drivers. If you hit an animal while driving, park your vehicle off the road as safely as possible, turn on the hazard lights, and check that you and your passengers are unharmed before attempting to help it. If anyone is injured, call an amublance on Triple Zero (000).

Try to move the animal off the road if safe to do so. Then call Wildlife Victoria on (03) 8400 7300 for help. Volunteer rescuers will be dispatched the check the animal's condition.

If there’s a chance the injured or dead animal will create a hazard for other road users, remove it or call for help. If you’re on a toll road, contact the operator. For major roads call VicRoads, and on local roads contact the local council or VicRoads.


wildlife warning sign next to a road

Pay attention to wildlife warning signs. Image: Getty

What to do if the animal is injured

Assess an injured animal's condition from a safe distance and call Wildlife Victoria on (03) 8400 7300 for volunteer rescuers to come and help. It's important to call even if the animal appears unharmed or has moved away, since it will very likely be injured after a collision.

Follow instructions given by Wildlife Victoria over the phone and, if possible, wait for the rescuers to arrive so you can direct them to the animal before you leave the scene.

Try to avoid approaching larger animals like kangaroos, wombats, wallabies and koalas yourself, as they can be dangerous when scared. Smaller animals like birds or echidnas can be carefully placed in a ventilated box (e.g. pet carrier) and taken to the nearest vet. Never approach a snake, which might be venemous, and never touch any type of bat, which may carry rare but fatal diseases.

Make sure to check your vehicle's grille if you hit or run over a bird. They can get entangled and trapped behind the grille.

Consider keeping a basic wildlife rescue kit handy, especially when driving outside urban areas. Useful items include gloves, a reflective vest, torch, blanket and a pillowcase (for smaller creatures), stored in a box that you can potentially put an injured animal into.

What to do if the animal is deceased

If an animal is deceased on the road, move it a few metres to the side of the road if possible and safe to do so. This will remove a hazard for other drivers and help scavengers such as wedge-tailed eagles avoid becoming secondary victims.

If the animal is a marsupial (e.g. kangaroo, wallaby, possum, koala, wombat), it might have a joey still alive in its pouch - even several days after the mother's death. Gently check the pouch and deliver any joeys to the nearest vet. If possible, carry the joey in a makeshift pouch inside your jumper and next to your chest. For more information on checking for joeys, read Wildlife Victoria's pouch checking guide.

You may see roadkill spray-painted with an X – this is how wildlife rescuers let others know the pouch has been checked.

"Wildlife roadkill is highly distressing, particularly when you’re seeing body after body on the side of the road," says Lisa. "If there is a road in your local neighbourhood that sees a lot of roadkill, you can write to your local council and ask them to assess it for road safety and signage options to reduce wildlife collisions."


koala sitting on road

Don't approach larger animals yourself, as they can be dangerous when scared. Image: Getty

Virtual fencing: a possible solution

Virtual fencing is a recent invention that actively alerts wildlife as cars approach so they don't cross the road at the wrong time. It has been trialled at several locations around Australia with excellent outcomes for wildlife, such as on Phillip Island.

Virtual fencing uses stimuli devices placed at 25-metre intervals on alternating sides of the road. These devices are triggered by vehicle headlights and use sound and flashing light to alert animals to approaching cars, warning them away from the road. Unlike physical fences, virtual fencing doesn't prevent animals from moving around to access resources.

That said, virtual fencing results from trial areas are still coming in. Virtual fencing only seems to work in areas where the speed limit is 80km or below, and it can also be very expensive - putting it out of reach of most councils to install on a large scale.

Does my car insurance cover wildlife collisions?

With RACV Comprehensive or Complete Care Car Insurance®, you're covered for a range of incidents, including collision with an animal. You'll need to pay the applicable excess. Damage caused by swerving to avoid hitting an animal and then hitting something else, such as a fence, is considered an at-fault incident.


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