Understanding the attitude and habits of drivers can help mitigating animal-vehicle collisions - Our new paper in Journal of Environmental Management


Our new paper by Sándor Borza and Laura Godó has recently been accepted in Journal of Environmental Management.

Borza, S. & Godó, L., Valkó, O., Végvári, Z., Deák B. (2023): Better safe than sorry – Understanding the attitude and habits of drivers can help mitigating animal-vehicle collisions. Journal of Environmental Management 339: 117917. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2023.117917 [IF2021: 8.910]

The paper is open access and can be downloaded freely from here.

One of the most important ecological impacts of roads is the fragmentation of natural habitats, which makes collisions with vehicles a significant threat to wildlife. The aim of our research was to understand the human factors behind animal-vehicle collisions through a large sample questionnaire survey. A total of 2,123 people completed the questionnaire, which is an outstanding number. Our results show that almost half of all drivers have had at least one collision with an animal. The graphical abstract below summarises the main message of the article.

The graph shows how many animals from each group respondents have hit in their lifetime. The colours mean: green - not hit; grey - can't remember if hit; yellow - hit once; red - hit more than once. It can be seen that there is a significant proportion of grey area for reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals, meaning that many people did not remember or were not sure whether they had hit an animal in that category. This is because members of these groups are small, move at ground level and often move at night, even in rainy weather. These all make detection difficult. Furthermore, because they do not pose a serious road safety risk or cause damage to the vehicle, they are more forgettable when hit, as opposed to, for example, a songbird loudly hitting the windscreen or a pet animal that may be more memorable if hit because of the emotional attachment.

We found that male drivers, those who drive long distances per year, and those who use secondary roads most often and drive large vehicles such as buses or trucks, are more likely to be involved in collisions with animals during their lifetime. Previous studies have shown that men and women drive differently and have very different attitudes to rules and restrictions in many ways, which affects the number of accidents, including animal-vehicle collisions. Unfortunately, it can be said that if you travel a lot, sooner or later you will hit an animal. With regard to road types, while primary roads are mostly protected by fences and wildlife crossings, this is not the case for secondary roads. However, it is worth noting that fences do not provide 100% protection, but can give people a false sense of security. Even on sections protected by fences, you should always be aware of animals wandering onto the road! In addition to having a larger impact surface, large vehicles are much less manoeuvrable safely to avoid a collision. These two factors together significantly increase the likelihood of an animal being hit.

Drivers' attitudes towards the importance of nature conservation and road safety in relation to animal-vehicle collisions were significantly influenced by whether they had ever been involved in a hit-and-run accident in their lives. Our results showed that people were sensitised by the sight of animals being hit and felt it was important to reduce the number of hits. A very large number of drivers, 797 in total, wrote a list of things they thought were useful in preventing collisions in their own words. Most of them suggested the installation of physical protection (fences and wildlife barriers).

A practical tip: if it is impossible to avoid a collision, the safest thing to do is to brake and keep the vehicle straight, rather than catching the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the natural avoidance mechanism makes this difficult to do, but it is not impossible and it makes a big difference to get out of the incident unscathed.