Animal Collisions, Roadkill and Kangaroos

Kangaroo crossing sign

The only animal I’ve ever killed was a cat. With my car. While running studded snow tires.

I felt terrible, but it was dark out, and I just didn’t see the feline in time to even attempt saving its life. Since then I’ve come dangerously close to much larger animals: an elk on the side of a North Idaho highway and a number of bucks encroaching on I-90 in Montana and Wyoming. But I’ve never come close to hitting a kangaroo, and I’ve never swerved to hit an animal on purpose.

Unlike some people.

An entertaining, if not slightly disturbing, study by a NASA scientist shows that 6 percent of drivers go out of their way to kill animals with their cars. Why the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is bothering with a roadkill study might be a worthy question, but for now let’s focus on the fact that 60 out of 1,000 drivers purposefully swerved to run over an animal.

The study, by NASA scientist Mark Rober, used rubber turtles, snakes and tarantulas placed on the shoulder of a road. Rober then watched a thousand cars pass, and noted that 60 of them swerved into the shoulder in order to run over the harmless fake animals. Yes, we could do a story on the fact that 940 drivers carried on without attempting animal murder, but that’s not nearly as interesting.

It’s common knowledge among professional (or even good) drivers that you should never swerve to avoid an animal that won’t cause harm to the vehicle if it gets hit. Swerving, especially at high speeds, presents too much risk to the driver, and the life of a squirrel or snake or turtle just isn’t worth it. By the same logic, drivers shouldn’t swerve to hit animals on purpose, either.

Swerving to avoid large animals, like kangaroos and elk, makes sense.

A story about roadkill in Australia says that kangaroos are on the top of the list when it comes to animal/vehicle collisions. Perhaps NASA should commission a study down under involving rubber marsupials and see just how many of those kangaroo deaths are happening on purpose.

Have you ever hit an animal with your car? Are you one of the 6 percent who would do it on purpose?


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  1. This was a really interesting piece. I can’t believe that 940 people out of 1K would actually go out of their way to hit a harmless animal. I’m wondering, where did this study take place? I would be all for legislation that would penalize drivers for killing animals if they could avoid it.

  2. Here’s another idea – drive slowly and not fast, keeping your eyes peeled on the side of the road as if anything could jump out at you at any time. Also how about putting those ‘Deer Alert’ whistles on the front of our cars to alert animals of your approach.
    These are simple proactive things we can all do while waiting for those terrific overpasses and underpasses to be constructed.
    Oh, and when an animal has been hit I’d like to see more people stop and see if there is dependent young nearby or if the animal is still alive – and to move it off the road so that predators don’t endanger themselves by feasting on the carcass on the road.

  3. Here is an idea: Make fences, big underpasses and overpasses so that animals can safely pass. It has worked great in Norway, Sweden,Canada and Southern Florida nature parks sinificanty reducing animal and human injuries/deaths. It is time we give something back to nature and wildlife! To some people it seems that life is only for humans and their consumption :(

  4. I believe the highest number of large animal collisions is here in Michigan where deer run everywhere, even in fairly heavily populated suburban areas. In Michigan, far more people are killed when they lose control trying to avoid a deer collsion than are killed by hitting a deer, so that swerve is probably not a good idea.

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