Do I have to emergency stop for an animal? Your legal rights and obligations

Sheep on the road from a drivers perspective

An emergency stop would be the right course of action if, for example, a child ran into the road. When braking to avoid an animal, however, what should you do?

Critical manoeuvre

As a car driver, you will have practised emergency stops when learning to drive. The emergency stop is a critical manoeuvre to learn in order to drive safely and avoid an accident on the road.

As an alert driver, you will rarely need to carry out an emergency stop as you will be reading the road ahead for potentially dangerous situations.

Braking to avoid hitting a pedestrian would be the correct reflex in an emergency. When it comes to avoiding a collision with a cat or dog, however, the case is less clear.

Should I perform an emergency stop for a dog or cat in the road?

Most road users and dog lovers would argue that you should carry out an emergency stop for a dog.

However, if you slam your brakes on to avoid hitting a dog or cat, you may present a danger to other road users.

The car behind might crash into the back of your vehicle risking injury to you and the occupants of each vehicle. Your actions could also raise issues around who is responsible for the collision.

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 maintaining a safe distance from the car in front.

The complication with emergency stops is that drivers rarely have time to consider the options. People usually brake as a knee-jerk reflex.

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

A court will consider how reasonable your actions were. Was the animal large enough to cause damage to your vehicle? Did your actions present a greater risk of injury to your passengers or other road users?

See also:

How often do injury claims go to court and what if they do?

Braking for large animals and livestock

Animals like cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, larger dogs and goats are usually 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 a 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.">

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 would 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.

See also:

Road accident compensation claims

Can I make an injury claim if I don’t know who is to blame?

Can I claim for an injury if partly to blame for an accident?

What happened?

The claims process will vary depending on how your road accident happened. Click the icons below to learn more:

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Howard Willis, Personal injury solicitor

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Howard Willis, Personal injury solicitor