Defensive Driving Tips


  1. If you are driving on a road that bisects the bottom of a hill and a water source, beware of animal crossings to and from their drinking and feeding ground.
  2. If the road is lined with trees, stone walls, hedges or grass, expect all sorts of birds and small mammals and deer, who prefer such edge habitat even if it’s right beside a busy road.
  3. During spring, summer and early fall months watch out for frogs and toads who tend to cross paved roads en masse during and after rain especially at night.


  1. Each spring and summer millions of baby wild animals in the US are orphaned and/or orphaned and/or injured due to car-animal collisions.
  2. If you see one animal cross the road, particularly during spring and summer months chances are more will follow.
  3. If you do hit an adult wild animal during “baby season” check for babies in the area. Baby opossums may still be in their mother’s pouch.
  4. Keeping a pet carrier in your car filled with a blanket and heavy gloves will prepare you for unforeseen rescues.


  1. If you see an animal on the side of the road, slow down and beep your horn. Many animals become accustomed to the drone of traffic noise.
  2. After seeing an animal on or near the side of the road flash your headlights on and off. Oncoming cars will surely slow down if they think there is a speed trap ahead.
  3. When driving at night choose to drive on lit roads whenever possible. If you must drive on unlit roads use your high beams. Use halogen headlamps.
  4. Fog lights are very helpful in illuminating the road’s periphery. Also, from the reference of a small mammal that sees a car at a distance it looks as though they can cross the road beneath the oncoming car’s headlights.
  5. Scan both sides of the road, scan edges of roads, scan especially on the right side of the road, both the driver and the animal will have less reaction time. Don’t drive on the immediate right shoulder of road, this is where most roadkills occur.
  6. On warm winter night be especially careful. Many small nocturnal animals are catnappers, they will emerge from their dens during brief warm spells for food.
  7. Both nocturnal and diurnal animals are most active at dawn and dusk.
  8. After heavy rain watch out for frogs who will cross en masse. Also, watch for both mammals and birds attracted to the dead frogs and worms on road. Birds deserve a brake too!
  9. Opossums, coyotes, raccoons and crows and other scavengers will be attracted to roadkills. Move dead animals to the side of the road with a stick or shovel only if you can do so safely.
  10. Don’t litter! Many animals are needlessly killed on roadsides while inspecting food and containers discarded from cars.
  11. Instead of relying purely on sensory input, use analytical skills. Look for movements of trees and grass. Look for horizontal lines and glowing eyes in wooded areas where tree patterns will create mostly vertical lines. Pay attention to surrounding such as berry bushes, fruit and nut bearing trees and water sources.
  12. If you see one animal on or near the road assume there are more to follow. Especially during spring and summer months when mothers are traveling with young.
  13. Opossums will freeze and bare their teeth at oncoming cars. This is their natural defense mechanism. When they realize you are not going to “attack” they will usually move on. A toot of the horn will send them on their way in a hurry.


DEER: Studies show that vulnerability of adults to accidents with motor vehicles varies between months. Both males and female are attracted to de-icing salts spread on roads during winter months. More than half of all accidents involving deer occur from September through November, since bucks are in rut, the females are excited, and the frequent presence of hunters has them further on the verge of panic. Five times as many adult males are killed during their rutting season (October and November) than other months. Adult does, on the other hand, appear to be more vulnerable in March and April, when they disperse from winter feeding grounds. During the late stages of pregnancy in late May and early June, does tend to consume large amounts of succulent green plants needed for milk production.

Preferred food is frequently available first in open areas exposed to the most sunlight, bringing the deer in close proximity to the edges of roadways.

When one deer crosses the road it is likely that more will follow. Does typically travel with one or two fawns, who may dart out after their mother even though it is no longer safe to do so. Deer tend to freeze when caught in the glare of headlights. They will also follow the headlights if a car skids while trying to avoid the deer.

RABBITS, CHIPMUNKS, AND SQUIRRELS: These are among the hardest animals to miss if they get in your path. All 3 species evade predators primarily through their ability to rapidly change direction. They will continue to try to “fool” you even after you stop your car. Rabbits are most plentiful in lightly wooded areas or alongside brushy ditches, toward the end of spring through the end of summer. They may be seen either day or night. At night they freeze in the glare of headlights. Chipmunks and squirrels take to the road in the greatest numbers at the end of summer, when windy weather and the onset of fall litters roadsides with edible nuts. Chipmunks and squirrels will remain plentiful on roads in tree lined areas until after the first snowfall. Chipmunks rarely emerge during winter months. Squirrels and chipmunks are usually out only during broad daylight.

RACCOONS: These highly intelligent animals usually travel in family groups, especially during spring and summer months. Raccoons are catnappers.

BIRDS OF PREY: Many hawks and owls are injured or killed in early fall. This may be attributed to fatigue due to migration and/or they may have been focusing their sights on their prey. If you swerve to avoid a predator swerve in the direction they came from, they will rarely double back.

Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way.

John Muir