Animals take toll on motorists

Collisions with animals are leading to a rise in road accidents and insurance costs, new study finds

August 26, 2009

Wildlife and stray animals are causing thousands of accidents and leading to high insurance costs, a new academic study has found.

The University of NSW says vehicle and animal collisions and attempts to avoid them caused more than 5,000 accidents between 1996 and 2005, resulting in more than 1,700 people being injured and another 22 killed.

The study, carried out by Dr Daniel Ramp and doctoral student Erin Roger, found kangaroos and wallabies were the most likely animals to be involved in collisions, which the NRMA estimates cost $3000 in 2003.

Ramp identifies a number of "hotspots", which include major road freight routes such as the Hume, Barton and Federal highways.

After kangaroos and wallabies, the study found straying stock, dogs, riderless horses and other large animals were next most involved in collisions.

The researchers used figures from the NSW accident database, which also revealed wombats, emu, stock being driven or led, cats and rabbits as other animals frequently colliding with vehicles.

According to the study, crashes are more likely to happen on the weekends and twice as likely to occur in the winter months from April to August.

The majority of collisions occurred on dry roads in fine weather between dusk and dawn, with the peak period being between 6pm and 7pm.

While study points out the worst accident involved seven people, Ramp says the real toll of collisions with animals is probably higher.

"Often, drivers swerve to miss animals only to hit roadside obstacles, such as trees and poles or oncoming vehicles," he says.

Besides major highways, the study found there were a number of accidents near Dubbo, Newcastle and Byron Bay.

By identifying the "hotspots", Ramp hopes engineers will focus their efforts on those locations.

"It is likely that the solutions will come from a combination of behavioural and vehicle design approaches. There is a particular need to understand driver reactions to animals on roads and their attitudes to the risk of collisions with them," he says.

"Previous studies investigating driver behaviour and attitudes to animal-vehicle crashes have been minimal. Nonetheless, it is known that drivers can effectively reduce the likelihood of animal-vehicle crashes by reducing their driving speed and remaining alert while driving through areas where animals are more abundant. "

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