Science

Animals cause thousands of road accidents: study

Tuesday, 25 August, 2009
Bob Beale

Kangaroos and wallabies are the most likely species to be involved in animal-related road accidents that result in human death or injury and vehicle damage on NSW roads, a new study has found.

More than 5,000 such accidents were recorded in NSW in the decade between 1996 and 2005, resulting in more than 1,700 people being injured and another 22 killed when drivers collided with or tried to avoid animals, the study found.

But the real toll is likely to be much higher, the researchers note: "Vehicle accidents related to the presence of an animal on a road are significantly under-reported. Often, drivers swerve to miss animals only to hit roadside obstacles, such as trees and poles or oncoming vehicles."

Seven people were injured in the worst crash. The average insurance cost of each accident was estimated in 2003 by the NRMA to be about $3,000.

Straying stock, dogs, riderless horses and other large animals were next most involved. Wombats, emu, stock being driven or led, cats and rabbits also featured in the accident statistics, compiled by UNSW researchers.

The study, by Dr Daniel Ramp and doctoral student Erin Roger of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, is one of the few of its kind and is based on an analysis of the Traffic Accident Database System of NSW. Many studies have looked at native animal deaths and injuries, with the numbers killed each year on the nation's roads and highways thought to be in the millions, not including reptiles and amphibians.

Dr Ramp says that with more vehicles and greater reliance on the road transportation network over the past 30 years, collisions between animals and vehicles have become an increasing concern for health agencies, environmentalists, animal welfare groups and road safety agencies.

Accident hotspots identified

The study found that crashes were significantly more likely to happen at weekends and twice as likely to happen in the winter months, from April to August. The great majority occurred on dry roads in fine weather between dusk and dawn, with the peak period being between 6pm and 7pm.

"We have identified several major hotspots for crashes involving animals," Dr Ramp says. "They were concentrated along the Hume, Barton and Federal highways, with peaks around the intersections, particularly those at Canberra and Yass."

Other hotspots were located near Dubbo, Newcastle and Byron Bay. Clustering of crashes involving "straying stock" was greatest at Lismore, Newcastle and the foothills of the Blue Mountains. For dogs, the foothills of the Blue Mountains accounted for the vast majority of crashes during the study period.

The knowledge that these hotspots are species specific should enable road managers and road safety engineers to focus their efforts on those species at those locations, Dr Ramp says.

"It is likely that the solutions will come from a combination of behavioural and vehicle design approaches. There is a particular need to understand driver reactions to animals on roads and their attitudes to the risk of collisions with them.

"Previous studies investigating driver behaviour and attitudes to animal-vehicle crashes have been minimal. Nonetheless, it is known that drivers can effectively reduce the likelihood of animal-vehicle crashes by reducing their driving speed and remaining alert while driving through areas where animals are more abundant.

"Information on driver responses to animals on the road, differences in behaviour for different animal types - for example, cattle versus native fauna -  and left-right preferences when swerving to avoid animal collisions is necessary to identify potential preventive strategies."

Media contacts
Daniel Ramp: 02 9385 2111 mobile - 0402 910 144 - d.ramp@unsw.edu.au
Faculty of Science:  Bob Beale - 0411 705 435 - bbeale@unsw.edu.au