The BC lower mainland, even in the most built up areas, contains many patches of forest that have become a haven for non-domesticated urban-dwelling animals, particularly raccoons and squirrels. Raccoons are nocturnal, so raccoons ambling across a highway in the dark of night should not come as a complete surprise.
When headlights pick up animals on the roadway, it’s time to start braking and to turn on the high beams. With raccoons, slowing down to allow a safe stop will generally be the right thing to do. It is impossible to predict with certainty how raccoons or any other wild animal will react. Animals can become mesmerized by car headlights, which can cause them to freeze. If the animal darts off the road, it may double-back onto it, particularly if it is guarding its young. If the animal has crossed the road but remains visible on the side, proceed only with extreme caution.
Drivers coming up behind a vehicle whose driver is trying to cope with the presence of animals in the roadway may wonder what is happening. Safe driving experts recommend, depending on the circumstances, that a driver confronting animals use flashing headlights, tap the brakes to flash the brake lights, sound the horn or use the emergency flashers, to warn other drivers.
Often, however, these incidents happen so quickly that there is little time to consider the predicament of other motorists. Note that swerving to avoid a wild animal may result in a more serious collision. Drivers who routinely follow too closely will be in trouble in these situations, as will impatient drivers whose habit is to slow down only when they have no other option. The pushy attitude of some drivers is particularly threatening and risky in situations like this.
Domesticated animals also frequently create an unexpected threat to the motorist in an urban setting. The SPCA website (www.spca.com) notes that 53% of Canadians own a pet (dog or cat) and that 30% of Canadian families own dogs. These statistics translate into a lot of animals that may get loose from time to time and try to cross the road at the wrong moment. Cats seem particularly prone to make a wrong decision in relation to oncoming vehicles, especially at night.
Pets inside cars can also cause a significant driving hazard. If they are free to roam around inside a vehicle they may cause the driver to be distracted. In a crash, they will turn into a projectile inside the vehicle.
It appears that more pets still travel unsecured than secured. For pet safety, for driver and passenger safety and ultimately for the safety of all road users, pets should be contained in the cargo area of most vans, SUVs and wagons using a pet barrier. For cars, pet restraint systems are available that attach to vehicle seat belts. In the not-too-distant future, this type of precaution may be mandatory.
Please drive safely.