Five top tips for driving safely with wild animals

By Mark Allen 7 Min Read

Day or night, town or country, driving at any time in any place presents a risk of animal strike.

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While it’s possible to encounter a wild animal in a town or city, the chances are slim. 

Compared to rural settings where there is a much higher chance you’ll see, have to brake for, and hopefully miss, wild or even farm animals. 

Kangaroos, buffalo, pigs, goats, wombats, donkeys, camels, and dozens of other small and large wild beasts are some you may encounter on an outback trip. The larger the animal, the more damage will be done to your pride and joy.

We suggest five basic ways to help prevent or minimise the damage via animal strike.

About the author

Mark Allen has been driving standard and modified 4×4’s for work and play for over 40 years. He’s steered everything from standard press vehicles to Australian Safari and Dakar events, modified low-range play vehicles to touring 4x4s.

Yes, he’s hit a couple of stray Roo’s over the years, but by and large, he has managed to miss most and return home unscathed. His latest adventure in a 4×4 converted HiAce saw him traverse almost 10,000 km of outback NSW, SA, NT and QLD and return home with little other than bug guts smeared all over the front of the van.

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Daytime driving

Vision during daylight hours is always your best bet for spotting wandering animals, so it makes sense that it will always be the best time to drive rural roads. While ideal, it’s not always possible, and the need to drive at night will arise sooner or later.

Those couple hours at dusk and dawn present the most common time to encounter wild animals crossing the roads as they are more active. Not only does that faded light and potential to drive straight into the sun make vision far from good to downright, almost dangerously blind. Try to avoid these two periods – your undamaged vehicle will thank you.

Driving lights

If you must, conceding there are many reasons for driving at night time, then dishing out for a decent set of driving lights should be at the top of your accessories list. There really is no need for the longest-reaching, brightest-performing light on the market. Instead, a quality beam with a good spread combined with length will see more of the things you’re trying not to hit. Yep, I have often spotted a Roo well off to the side of the road, giving me plenty of time to react and slow down.

Be sure to set or aim your lights well before that country drive you’ve got planned. Too high or low, or not setting the correct distance apart to suit the beam pattern, will not return the maximum potential of your chosen lights.

Slow down

They say speed kills. While not entirely correct, the higher the speed, the more potential for serious injury or death. The same goes for the damage you may do to your 4×4 by hitting an animal at high speed compared to low. That higher speed may be the difference between denting your grill and bonnet compared to destroying the grill and radiator, wiping out your lights and possibly even having the animal strike your windscreen and land on your lap.

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So, knock some speed off your driving, whether day or night, to help prevent animal strike. 

Correct braking techniques

There’s more to stopping in the minimal possible distance than jamming your big right boot into the brake pedal. Locking up the treads will not return the highest braking potential from your 4×4. Instead, cadence braking will help reduce the stopping distance to the minimum possible. Gently verging on the line of locking your tyres up and not, will not only provide better braking performance but also allow some steering to help avoid a collision. Not suggesting you should wrench the steering wheel so hard as to run off the road, but slight steering inputs to help either miss or deflect an animal strike instead of a full head-on collision.

Bull bar

While following all our points above, protecting your 4×4 should be part of your plan for rural driving, day or night. Fitting a bull bar, with the potential to combine with side rails, is the most effective way of protecting your steed. While there are various materials and many brands of bull bars available for most makes and models of 4×4, there are points of design that will help more than others in warding off animal strike. 

The latest trend of a lower front bar only, with no hoops, may look the goods to some, but they offer little protection compared to a complete central and outer hoop design. 

Driving “play” type 4×4 tracks will expose you to bars with upswept side wings, little metal work hanging below the chassis and not overly-engineered for premium vehicle protection. This bodes well for maximum clearance for tackling challenging environments and lighter weight. 

The other end of the spectrum will see 5-poster truck-style bars combined with dual scrub bars leading down to full-length side steps. While these offer superior damage control, they tend to be the realm of full-time workers, residents of the outback, and those doing the rounds of Ute Musters and other various outback shindigs.

The happy medium design bull bar, which looks good and delivers excellent protection, is where most of us will be spending our hard-earned earned. The shape helps deflect animals downwards rather than up and over. The protection is for both frontal and above, but also below steering components and those with low-fitted front-mount intercoolers. 

You’ll undoubtedly suffer some damage when colliding with a fair to large-sized beast, but at least your 4×4 will be mobile to continue driving – slower.


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