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

Most drivers will have practised 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 a critical manoeuvre to learn in order to drive safely and avoid accidents on the road.

An emergency stop would be the correct reflex in an emergency, e.g. if a child runs out in front of your car. However, when it comes to stopping to avoid a collision with an animal, the case is less clear.

See also: A Guide To Claiming Animal-Related Road Accident Injury Compensation

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 vehicle, which could cause injury or damage to either vehicle and raises issues around who is responsible.

The driver who performed the emergency stop might 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 difficulty with emergency stops is that the driver will rarely have time to consider the options, and people usually brake as a knee-jerk reflex.

If you have been involved in a collision having taken evasive action to avoid hitting an animal, your case will be considered on its merits.

The court will consider how reasonable your actions were; 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 large 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 to avoid a small animal if braking puts other road users at risk.

The courts will not take into account sentimental attachment to individual animals. Cats, for example, are not large enough to damage a car. As cats are common house pets, many drivers would instinctively brake to avoid hitting one. However, 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 braked to avoid an animal and your actions 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 liable.

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 to claim compensation. Therefore nothing is ruled out until all of the evidence has been considered.

How can Quittance help?

Your solicitor will fight for the best possible compensation settlement for you, the highly-experienced panel of solicitors have an excellent track record of winning road accident claims.

If you have any questions, or would like to start a No Win No Fee claim, we are open 8am to 9pm weekdays, 9am to 6pm on Saturday, and 9.30am to 5pm on Sunday.

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Howard Willis, Personal injury solicitor

About the author

Howard qualified as a solicitor in 1984 and has specialised in personal injury for over 25 years. He is a member of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and is a recognised Law Society Personal Injury Panel expert.

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