5 December 2022

You're driving along and a kangaroo jumps out in front of you - what should you do?

| James Coleman
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Kangaroo on a road

To swerve, or not to swerve? That is the question. Photo: Glynis Quinlan.

When it comes to the number of animals hit by cars each year in Australia by location, you might be surprised to learn that a capital city (in fact, the capital) would take second place.

But not according to the latest Wildlife Road Safety Report from the NRMA, which puts Canberra up there with regional NSW towns for the sheer number of animal-vehicle collisions.

The report compiles insurance claim data from NRMA and its parent-company IAG from all the Local Government Areas in NSW and the ACT between 2015 and 2020.

Dubbo came first with 689 insurance claims related to animal collisions, followed by Canberra with 568 and Goulburn (479).

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The data firmly backs up the logic that stretches of road and highway in regional areas pose a greater risk of animal collision than suburban streets. The ACT is an exception, though, as many parts of the Territory resemble regional areas. The many wide open spaces and nature reserves might make a pleasant place to walk, but they are also habitats.

For vehicles, NRMA says the aftermath of a collision with an animal typically takes the form of damage to panels, bumpers, lights and doors, but can easily lead to serious injuries for the vehicle’s occupants if the driver attempts high-speed evasive manoeuvres.

For context, 30 of the 116 animal collisions reported in 2020 involved serious injuries.

Kangaroos in Civic

Kangaroos in Civic during the 2020 COVID lockdown. Photo: Umair Rehmat.

The outcome tends to be worse for the animal.

“It’s estimated that 10 million animals die on Australian roads every year,” NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury says.

“We know that driver behaviour is the single biggest contributor to motor vehicle accidents, so more focus needs to be placed on driver education around how to minimise the risk of accidents involving wildlife, particularly when driving on regional and rural roads.”

The NRMA encourages drivers to be particularly alert around dawn and dusk when wildlife tends to be most active. They also say that “if an animal moves in front of your vehicle, it’s critical that drivers do not swerve”, with efforts devoted to slowing the car down as much as possible.

Fifth Gear Motoring driving instructor Daniel Flanagan says not swerving is often suggested as a default safety move to avoid losing control or hitting other vehicles, but it isn’t always that simple.

“I’ve read reports of kangaroos coming through the windscreen of the car and causing huge damage to not only the vehicle but also injuring the occupants inside because all they did was brake. It’s a bit of a Catch-22.”

READ ALSO Why don’t Canberra’s kangaroos have any road sense?

His first piece of advice is to know your vehicle.

“If you’ve got the ability to slow your car and then swerve, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he says.

“It’s about knowing whether your car has anti-lock brakes and active stability control because both those technologies make a huge difference. And yet when you buy a new car, dealerships often won’t explain how they work.”

An Antilock Braking System (ABS) prevents the wheels from skidding under heavy braking by releasing and reapplying the brakes several times a second (the driver can often feel this is as a shuddering through the brake pedal). Meanwhile, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) detects loss of steering control and automatically applies the brakes on different wheels to help bring the vehicle back in line.

Cars on a race track

Fifth Gear Motoring driver training at Wakefield Park Raceway. Photo: James Coleman.

Even with the best technology in the world, Daniel says you may not be able to avoid every accident, but you can reduce the severity of it. It all starts by looking ahead.

“As a driver, you need to be scanning from the bonnet to the horizon and back again in a continuous cycle because the sooner you spot a hazard, the more time you have to deal with it.”

Related to this, Daniel says regularly checking mirrors means drivers know exactly what’s around them if they do need to swerve.

“Checking your mirrors every eight to 10 seconds will make a huge difference when it comes to making the decision to swerve because you have an understanding of what’s around you. You won’t swerve if you know a car is in the lane next to you.

“People look for a do or don’t answer on these scenarios but not every scenario is the same.”

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Carol Miller7:06 pm 08 Dec 22

I used to work in an office that had a fleet section and the manager always said it was better to hit the kangaroo than swerve and hit the unknown. The kangaroo will always do far less damage to yourself and your car than swerving and hitting a possible oncoming vehicle or running off the road and hitting a tree etc! 😞

I have twice had kangaroos jump into the side of my car. They hit me; I didn’t hit them. The first time, despite a good bang, I was driving an older car with more solid panels and there was no damage. The second time I was driving a newer car with thin panels and it left a dint. Coming from Cooma after dark along the Monaro Hwy. It would have been worse if the kangaroo hadn’t mostly hit the reinformed part around the rear wheel, which wasn’t damaged. Only the neighbouring back door was dinted. I stopped to see how the kangaroo was, but it had fled. Noticeable fur left on the car though.
I try to drive to conditions. At dusk and in the dark I slow down and scan the sides of the road for them. I did have to apply the brakes hard late at night on Mugga Way once. Came over a small crest to see a mother an joey standing in the middle of the road. Left rubber on the road and only managed to stop barely in time. They disappeared from view in front of my car, but I just avoided hitting them and they sedately hopped away, as if nothing had happened.
I was driving back to Canberra after dark on a country road and was waved down. A car had hit a kangaroo and was a right off. The car caught on fire and started a grass fire. A plastic panel underneath was bent and touched a hot part of the car. I rang 000 to explain the situation. However, while the owner put out the car fire, I managed to extinguish the grass fire. I rang the fire service and told them this, but they still said they were still coming. It was drier times. Two large fire engines arrived and confirmed the fires were out.
I was also driving to Sydney once for Christmas and a kangaroo jumped out into the car two in front. That mucked up their Christmas. I could see the car loaded with Christmas presents. Kangaroo sadly likely faired worse.

You’re driving along and a kangaroo jumps out in front of you – what should you do?
Normally I pull over and say to the roo “if you are waiting for the tram to Woden you will be waiting a very long time. Just hop in and I will give you a lift to Woden Plaza”.

Report accidents involving injured wildlife to Access Canberra on 13 22 81. I haven’t yet hit a suicidal roo but that number is in my contacts.

That’s why I fitted a bullbar

I hit a roo 4 weeks ago, the first time in my 45 year driving career it has happened. But it happened at 11.30am, not at the recognised danger period.

My first sight of the roo was when he appeared in front of my left front tyre on the down point of his jump. I hit him cleanly killing him outright and causing no damage to my car. I did however pull over and burst into tears for the fact that I had just killed a kangaroo….

StevenGreen311:34 pm 06 Dec 22

If your car has ABS, hit the brakes as hard as you can. Only take evasive action once your speed is sufficiently reduced. I’ve hit 2 kangaroos when I was younger, no ABS. Didn’t swerve either time.

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