Emergency stop for an animal - What does the law say?

Most drivers will have practiced the emergency stop at some point; at least during driving lessons. But when is it safe to stop for an animal?

The emergency stop is an important manoeuvre to learn in order to drive safely and avoid accidents on the road.

The emergency stop is required in the case of an emergency, such as if a child runs out in front of your car. However, when it comes to stopping to avoid colliding with animals, the case is less clear.

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Should you perform an emergency stop for a dog?

Many road users (and dog lovers) would argue yes. However, if you slam your brakes on to avoid hitting a dog, you may present a danger to other road users.

The car behind might crash into the back of your car, which could cause injury or damage to either vehicle, and raises issues around who is responsible.

The driver who performed the emergency stop may be at fault, if they failed to check that it was safe to do so. Equally, the person in the car behind could be to blame for not driving at a safe distance.

The issue with emergency stops is that the situations when they are required rarely leave you time to consider the options, and people usually act on instinct.

If you have been involved in a collision caused by emergency stopping to avoid hitting an animal, your case will be considered on its own individual facts.

The court will look at reasonableness; for example, was the animal large enough to cause damage to the vehicle or injury to its passengers?

Braking for large animals and livestock

Animals like cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, dogs and goats are considered big enough to justify an emergency stop. The size of these animals means that, if hit at speed, they could damage the front of the car, potentially smashing the vehicle's windscreen and injuring passengers.

Smaller animals like rabbits, squirrels and ducks are not large enough to cause significant damage to vehicles. It is not deemed reasonable to perform an emergency stop in order to avoid a small animal, if braking puts other road users in harm's way.

Courts appear not to take into account human attachment to certain animals. Cats, for example, are not large enough to damage a car, and a driver may feel some guilt after hitting a cat, but the courts are unlikely to agree that braking for a cat is sufficient reason to put other road users at risk.

It may seem harsh that the law considers it reasonable to run over some animals and not others, but the courts are primarily concerned with road safety in these cases.

You might feel guilty for hitting a squirrel, but you would feel much worse if you caused a car crash by emergency stopping to avoid it.

Who is responsible for accidents involving animals on the road?

The courts look at each case individually.

If you emergency stopped to avoid an animal and this resulted in the car behind colliding with yours, the driver behind could be found responsible for not keeping a safe distance. In certain circumstances, the owner of the animal might be found partially responsible.

If a dog runs in the road due to negligence from the owner, or if you hit a sheep because it was not fenced in safely or there was no clear signage, these factors could influence the court's decision.

Unfortunately, there are some fraudulent cases, where drivers claim to have performed an emergency stop for an animal in order to claim compensation. Therefore nothing is ruled out until all of the evidence has been considered.

Have you been injured in a road accident?

For more information on making a road accident claim, or to discuss whether you may have a claim, speak to a member of our team on 0800 612 7456.

Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

About the author

Gaynor Haliday is an experienced legal researcher and published author. She has had numerous articles published in the press and is a legal industry commentator.

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