Wildlife vehicle collision: what to do and where to be careful

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In the fall, the risk of a wildlife vehicle collision rises. Particular caution is called for in the cantons of Jura, Fribourg, and Thurgau. Across Switzerland, wildlife vehicle collisions cause over CHF 50 million in claim costs every year. Drivers should mind the warning signs, adjust their speed, and be prepared to brake. If you hit a wild animal, you must report this to the police immediately; otherwise you risk being prosecuted for animal cruelty.

Thousands of wild animals die on the roads every year. The darkest time of year and thus the season with the worst visibility in the morning and evening hours increases the risk of colliding with a wild animal. More than 3,000 wildlife vehicle collisions are reported every year just to AXA, Switzerland’s largest motor vehicle insurer. The amount paid out in claims is more than CHF 10 million every year, rising to more than CHF 50 million for Switzerland as a whole.

Wildlife vehicle collision: which cantons have the highest risk?

AXA’s claims statistics show that the likelihood of colliding with an animal differs from region to region in Switzerland. Car drivers should be particularly careful in Jura, Fribourg, and Thurgau, where the risk is up to seven times higher than in other cantons. In Geneva and Nidwalden, the risk of a wildlife vehicle collision is the lowest in Switzerland.

Animal damage frequency (in per mille):

Data source and chart: AXA (database: all wildlife vehicle collisions reported to AXA in 2022 by canton)

Be careful when driving in the morning and evening

Wildlife vehicle collisions can essentially happen at any time of day and in any season. “However, drivers should be especially careful in October, November, and December because, as the days get shorter, wild animals are more likely to be out and about at the same time as car drivers. It’s also dark in the morning and evening, so drivers often don’t see animals on the road until it’s too late,” explains Patrick Villiger, Head of Motor Vehicle Claims at AXA. “Drivers should therefore adjust their speed and be ready to brake at any time in the morning or evening – particularly in wooded areas and where there are warning signs,” he advises. If a wild animal does suddenly leap out in front of your car, it is better to brake hard than to try avoiding it.

«When the days become shorter, it is more likely that wild animals will be out and about at the same time as car drivers.»

Patrick Villiger, Head of Motor Vehicle Claims at AXA

Report a wildlife vehicle collision to the police immediately

If you do hit a wild animal, you are required by law to notify the police immediately. The police will then call in a gamekeeper, hunter, or other specialist to put it out of its misery if necessary.

Delay in reporting an accident is not a trivial offense

“Anyone who doesn’t report an accident to the police immediately or only does so at the insurance company’s request is liable to be prosecuted for animal cruelty,” says AXA-ARAG legal expert Alessandro Guarino. There has been a trend toward applying the law more strictly in the past few years: While people used to be fined simply for violation of duty, these days they may be prosecuted for negligent or even deliberate animal cruelty. “If you don’t immediately report an accident with a wild animal, the animal may suffer needlessly for hours. That would be a breach of the Animal Welfare Act, potentially resulting in prosecution for animal cruelty and a criminal record. In other words, we are not talking about a trivial offense,” adds the legal expert.

How to avoid wildlife vehicle collisions

  • Take wildlife crossing signs seriously to protect wild animals and yourself against accidents.
  • Take special care when driving on country roads and in wooded areas. Reduce your speed, increase the distance to the car in front, and keep an eye on the edges of forests and fields.
  • Turn on your high-beam headlights when you can so that wild animals can see you as early as possible.
  • As soon as you see a wild animal at the edge of the road, brake immediately, dim your lights, and honk your horn if the animal does not move away. Be aware of any vehicles behind you.
  • Be prepared for more wild animals in the same place, as animals often roam in groups. This means that if there is one animal, there are also others, so as soon as the lead animal flees, the herd will nearly always follow.
  • If a wild animal suddenly jumps out in front of your car, the best thing to do is brake hard, even on a slippery road, because anti-lock brakes will prevent your car from skidding. This can reduce energy and minimize the impact of any subsequent collision. Drivers should avoid swerving sharply.

What should I do if I hit a wild animal?

  • Stop the car and secure the accident site (hazard lights, warning triangle).
  • Inform the police immediately (call 117). In Switzerland, wildlife vehicle collisions must be reported by law. If necessary, the police will call in other specialists (gamekeeper, hunter, vet).
  • Wait for the police and do not try to approach the animal.

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