Legal Requirements if You Hit an Animal Whilst Driving in NSW

Sahar Adatia.

 

At the annual Bathurst 1000 that was recently held at the famed Mount Panorama circuit in New South Wales, competitors got behind the wheel and raced around the track in dizzying laps, reaching speeds of over 250 kilometres per hour.

But what the drivers of Australia’s most famous motor race weren’t expecting was to discover a small echidna casually stroll onto the circuit, right in the middle of the mayhem.

The prickly anteater meandered onto the Mount Panorama race track 105 laps into the Supercars season-finale, leaving drivers to swiftly swerve to avoid hitting the creature.

Several cars narrowly missed striking the echidna as it leisurely made its way across the width of the course.

Before long, a safety car was called to deal with the critter, forcing all cars to reduce their speed and bunch up for two laps, all while viewers held their breath in anticipation.

The echidna eventually crossed the track at the cutting and found a gap in the concrete fencing.

It was then picked up by a safety marshal.

 

The Time of Day Drivers Are More Likely to Hit Animals on the Road…

The unexpected incident has since left Australians wondering – what should you do if you’re behind the wheel on a public road and hit an echidna, or any animal for that matter?

As far as echidnas are concerned, while the spiky creatures are found across Australia, most active during their breeding season from late June to November, generally, they are unlikely to be spotted out and about.

In fact, according to Dr Michael Pyne, senior vet at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, although widespread, they are actually reticent animals.

“They actually very widespread and they’re really quite common out there — they’re just very secretive,” Dr Pyne advises.

“They keep to themselves and it’s quite unusual to see an echidna marching across the road during broad daylight, like it did at Bathurst.”

Rather, Dr Pyne cautioned to be aware at dawn and dusk as this is when most echidnas are brought to the wildlife hospital, situated just north of NSW’s border with Queensland.

“We see probably 90 per cent of our echidnas come into the hospital during that time,” Dr Pyne says.

“It’s usually trauma from cars or our pet dogs.”

As for encountering animals on the road more broadly, spokesperson for roadside assistance and insurance company RACQ, Lauren Ritchie, says drivers should not take evasive action to avoid an animal on the road.

“Don’t swerve into oncoming traffic to try and avoid an animal,” Ms Ritchie instructs.

“But obviously if it is safe to do so, you should try and avoid a collision.

“For obvious reasons we don’t want to injure our wildlife, but also hitting an animal can cause extensive damage to your vehicle and potentially make it swerve or spin out.”

According to Ms Ritchie, drivers should be mindful about the time of day they are travelling, particularly with wildlife on the side of the road.

“We know that dawn and dusk are those peak times for animals to come out,” she informs.

“Animals tend to freeze in headlights, so if you are travelling with your headlights on, be mindful that you can startle animals at that point.

“If you just happen to be driving at dawn or dusk or where you spot a sign that says echidnas cross here, generally be aware, but that doesn’t mean you should be slowing down just because of that.

“That can cause more issues for other drivers if you are also dangerously under-speed.”

Below, our criminal lawyers Sydney team outline a bit of the law on what the law says about hitting an animal on the road in New South Wales.

Legal Requirements if You Hit an Animal Whilst Driving in NSW

While it may not seem immediately obvious, in NSW, as the driver of a vehicle, if you do happen to hit or injure an animal (other than a bird) whilst on the road, it is a legal requirement that you report the incident to either the RSPCA, an officer, or the pet owner, as soon as realistically possible.

Additionally, you are required to take reasonable action to ensure the animal is in the least amount of pain as possible.

These laws are stated in section 14 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW) and specifically advise that the driver of a vehicle which strikes and injures an animal (other than a bird) shall not fail to take reasonable steps to alleviate the pain inflicted on an animal, nor to inform as soon as practicable to an officer or a person in charge of the animal that the animal has been injured.

There are substantial penalties in place for any breach of these laws.

Specifically, as prescribed in section 14, there is a maximum penalty of 6-months imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500 for the offence.

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