No one wants to hurt a raccoon, rabbit or turtle. And certainly no one wants to collide with a deer or moose. But as urban development cuts into woodlands, it forces wildlife onto roadways, making them an easy target in traffic. And as the number of roads and drivers increases, an animal’s risk of becoming road kill also rises, says John Griffin, director of urban wildlife solutions of the Humane Society of the United States.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 1 to 2 million collisions between vehicles and large animals every year. While most of these are more likely to harm wildlife than humans, around 200 people die each year as a result of car accidents involving an animal.

turtle crossing

Where, and when, the wild things are

A CDC study found that 89 percent of car accidents involving animals take place on the kind of two-way roads that many people drive on daily. In other words, the risk of hitting an animal isn’t just a rural one. Roads with lots of vegetation on either side are especially dangerous. When animals looking for food or a mate reach the edge of greenery, they don’t recognize the danger of a paved highway and will simply keep going. Porcupines are especially at risk in winter after snow or ice storms — they love salt and will forage for it on recently salted roads.

Related: 4 Key Tips For Safer Winter Driving

(Photo: trekandshoot/Shutterstock)

Many animals feed in the dim light of dawn and dusk. If you’re driving at these times, slow down and scan the side of the road carefully. Antlered animals (deer, elk, moose) mate in autumn, making them more vulnerable during the fall. The majority of accidents involving deer occur in October and November.

Honor the speed limit in areas with yellow animal crossing signs. They’re there for a reason.

Related: What to Do If You Encounter a Bear

What to do if you see an animal

Slow down. Tap your brakes so the car behind you knows you’re lowering your speed. If it’s safe, maneuver to the left or right in order to steer clear of the critter.

Flash your lights. At night, flash your high beams multiple times. Deer fixate on headlights and may back away from the road. In fact, driving with your high beams on (as long as there are no cars coming toward you) can help to illuminate animals’ eyes so you’re more likely to see them.

Watch out for families. Some wildlife travel in family groups or herds. If you see one animal, be alert for more. The mama raccoon that’s waddling in the median may be safely out of the path of your car, but she may have a brood of little ones following her.

If you hit an animal

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to avoid an accident, says Robert Sinclair, Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York. Swerve to the right and you risk veering off the road; swerve to the left and you could be facing an oncoming truck.

If you do hit an animal:

  • Pull over. Put on your hazard lights to alert oncoming cars that something’s up. Don’t try to move or treat a wounded animal. If it wasn’t hurt too badly or was only stunned, it may recover and attack you.
  • Call for help. If you’ve injured an animal and you’re OK, call a non-emergency service like Animal Control. The best way to get the number is to call information at 4-1-1. If you can, stay with the animal until help arrives.Of course, a major collision that causes significant damage to your car warrants a call to 9-1-1.
  • Assist someone’s pet. Check for identification tags and notify the owner immediately if you can. Otherwise, pick up the animal using a blanket, heavy gloves (from your car emergency kit) or some other form of protection — a frightened animal can become aggressive — and take it to a nearby vet or shelter.

Related: How To Rescue A Stray Without Putting Yourself At Risk

Toni Gerber Hope, formerly the health director at “Good Housekeeping,” writes about women’s health and nutrition.