How to avoid hitting wildlife
Read our top tips for dodging animals on the road.
Roadkill is a ubiquitous sight on almost all Australian highways; on one stretch of highway between Cairns and Cooktown I swear there was a decomposing kangaroo corpse every 500m, at least. And it isn't only kangaroos that feel the impact (pun intended) it's also livestock and endangered native wildlife.
It doesn't help that in Australia so many of our endangered animals keep their young in pouches. Hit the mum and the bub will likely be left to starve in their dead mother's pouch.
Not only that - hitting an animal poses a serious risk to your car and its occupants. With any animal smaller than a human you'll probably be ok, But hit something like a cow and you may as well have run straight into a brick wall; they are seriously solid. Not only will they dent your car but they will ruin your holiday and play havoc with your finances.
So, in the interests of maintaining both our human, livestock and wildlife populations in an animate state, it is worthwhile knowing what you can do to avoid hitting them.
KEEP IT LIGHT
The cardinal rule for driving in rural Australia is to keep off the roads at night, at dusk and at dawn. This means that your long distance driving should be done during the day. The reason this rule works is simple - most Australian marsupials are nocturnal and kangaroos are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn. This doesn't mean you can relax during the day (the hordes of unfenced cows wandering the country make this a very bad idea), it is just less likely that an animal will be about.
If you do need to drive at night it is a good idea to have bright headlights with a wide beam. Turn on your spotlights if your car has them. Combined, this will give you the earliest possible warning of animals either on the road or beside it, giving you extra braking time.
Driving below the speed limit will also give you extra time in which to see an animal, as well as extra braking time so you can avoid hitting it. And of course, bright headlights and driving slowly won't stop you hitting something if you aren't paying attention to the road. There is even a technique to knowing which part of the road to watch - look as far ahead as possible, to the very edge of where your headlights reach.
Equip your car with a bull bar, they won't prevent all damage to your vehicle but they will mitigate it while reducing the chance of injury to the occupants. Wash your windscreen at every pit stop, it sounds silly but if your windscreen is clean it is much easier to spot a well camouflaged roo in time.
Keep both hands on the wheel at all times, as this gives you the greatest control in an emergency. And if you are on your fourth double strength latte for the evening it is time to stop for a snooze, a tired driver is a dangerous driver.
PREPARE FOR THE WORST
Before heading out on a long country drive it is a good idea to think about what you would do if a roo came bounding across the road in front of you, as the split second you have to decide what to do is not the best time to be thinking about it for the first time. Be aware that hitting something the size of a sheep or small kangaroo is only likely to damage your car and the roo, whereas swerving at highway speeds can very easily lead to loss of control of the vehicle.
If you have enough time to brake then this is the best way to go, as you will either be able to stop in time, you will avoid the roo or you will hit it with less force than otherwise. Only decide to swerve if you can slow down first and always remember to look where you want to go. If you are looking straight at the roo you will probably end up ploughing right into it. Don't be afraid to really slam on the brakes, anti-lock braking systems are pretty good these days so you shouldn't skid, but it's still a good idea to keep your wheels as straight as possible.
SOME FINAL TIPS
If you have seen one kangaroo it is a safe bet there will be others around, so drive more slowly and with more caution. You are also more likely to hit an animal in areas where the roadside vegetation is thick and when it is overcast or cloudy.
Nobody wants to hit an animal, it is generally a lose-lose situation for all involved. But, if you do, get out of the car and check that it isn't a female with a young one in the pouch. If it is, where possible take the baby to the nearest wildlife recuse centre still in the mother's pouch or for larger animals wrap the baby in a blanket.
Source: Camper Trailer Australia #43