Unfortunately, wild animals and livestock are part and parcel of using roads in Australia – especially in rural areas. Every year in Australia thousands of motor vehicle accidents are caused by animals on our roads. These accidents with animals may be a result of a direct impact, or by swerving to avoid the animal, and can cause substantial damage to our vehicles and even result in serious injuries.
The NSW Roads and Maritime Services claim that 1 in 5 crashes on rural roads involve an animal, many of which have unfavourable consequences for the motorist.
Recently, three people were injured, one fatally, when the vehicle they were travelling in hit what was believed to be a horse carcass on the Bruce Highway near Bluewater. In response to the these accidents with animals the Environment Department has culled dozens of wild brumbies in the area.
So what are your rights if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident as a result of hitting a wild animal or livestock on our rural roads, or injured as a result of taking evasive action to avoid a collision with such?
The very nature of the Australian landscape makes our rural roads more susceptible to encounters with wild animals or livestock. Many major highways and rural roads in Australia are not fenced, leading to an increased risk of accidents with animals from the wild and livestock.
Kangaroos are the biggest threat to Queensland motorists, with the NRMA estimating that they were the cause of more than 9000 collisions on Queensland roads last year. There is a higher risk of a collision with an animal at dawn and dusk, as animals tend to be more active at these times and visibility for the driver is limited.
The NRMA have identified the following top five hotspots for collisions with an animal:
- Mount Isa
- St George
Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that kangaroos and wallabies were involved in about 60% of the accidents that resulted in human deaths, with straying livestock and horses making up the rest.
While in the above statistics the kangaroos and wallabies are all wild animals, and are not owned by anyone, the livestock and horses are different, as they are indeed owned by someone (with the exception of wild horses).
So can you make a claim against the owner of those animals for allowing them to stray onto the road?
Queensland still adopts the English common law rule that livestock/animals have the “right of way” when they are on the road. This age old law effectively states that owners or occupiers of land adjoining highways are under no legal obligation to fence, or to maintain their fences, along the highway to prevent their animals from straying onto the highway.
This means that in the event of accidents with animals, any damage livestock cause to people or their vehicles cannot be blamed on their owner. This rule was first made law in England and then adopted by Australia. However over the years it has been the subject of much criticism and has now been abolished in England and in all states and territories of Australia except for Queensland and the Northern Territory.
There have been calls for this law to also be abolished in Queensland and recommendations made to allow for the legal liability of animals to be left to the general law of negligence, however, to date, this has not been implemented.
Different areas around Queensland will however have their own laws regarding fencing of property and differentiate between farm animals and domestic animals. However the common law rule will apply where the road passes through open range country. We can help you determine whether the owner of the animals has breached any local laws that may give rise to a claim.
In consideration of the above Queensland drivers must be ever vigilant when driving on our open highways and rural roads. The NSW Roads and Maritime Service have the following tips to help avoid hitting an animal on the road:
- Pay attention to warning signs. Take heed by slowing down and be wary of any sudden movement from the edges of the road.
- Be especially watchful at dusk and dawn.
- Slow down if you see an animal on the road. Animal behaviour can be especially unpredictable when they are panicked by the sight and sound of a vehicle.
- Remember that animals often gather and travel in groups. If you see one by the road, slow down and be wary of other animals that may also be nearby.
- If a vehicle ahead of you has suddenly slowed or stopped, the driver may be waiting for an animal. Slow down and be prepared to stop until the hazard has cleared.