Do Drivers Purposefully Swerve to Hit Animals on the Road?
Humanity's inner darkness is revealed on the road
Human beings are capable of some dark and demented things, but would people purposefully swerve onto the shoulder of the road—outside their driving path—just to run over a small animal?
The idea is appalling to most of us. Mind you, we’re not talking about large creatures that could damage a vehicle or ones that have entered a car’s lane. We mean changing a vehicle’s trajectory to collide with a fragile, slow-moving animal on the side of the road.
A number of studies have been done on this very subject and we’ll take a look at three of them.
Animals on the Road: Clemson University Experiment
A couple years ago, a Clemson University student performed an experiment to determine an effective method to help turtles safely cross busy streets. But instead of discovering a safe means of transportation, he found that a shocking percentage of drivers purposefully swerve to flatten animals on the road.
Nathan Weaver, a senior in the School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences, placed realistic-looking rubber turtles on the side of the road by his South Carolina campus. In an hour, 7 out of 267 cars (about 3%) purposefully veered onto the berm to flatten the fake turtles. More attempted to hit the turtles but missed.
Animals on the Road: Former NASA Engineer’s Study
Around the same time, science whiz Mark Rober (formerly a NASA engineer) wanted to know if drivers were more likely to swerve and crush certain types of animals over others.
After placing rubber snakes, turtles, and spiders on the side of the road, he monitored the driving habits of 1,000 passing vehicles. While most drivers stayed in their lanes and left the animals undisturbed, 6% went out of their lane to run over the animals—a shocking 89% of those perpetrators were driving SUVs.
Animals on the Road: Tropical Conservation Science Report
For a perspective outside the United States, mongabay.com’s Tropical Conservation Science journal published a study last year with a similar setup as the other two experiments.
Along Brazil’s biodiversity-rich MG-010 road, cameras monitored driving habits of vehicles and found that—over multiple days—42 fake snakes were intentionally struck, concluding that “road-killing” was a common practice for drivers on Brazilian streets.
The study also found that cars and motorcycles were responsible for fewer “hits” than large vehicles like trucks, buses, and SUVs.
Researchers also referenced three other investigations which supported the idea that drivers would go out of their way to strike certain animals.
Conclusion: Would You Kill an Animal for Fun?
We have to put aside our innate impulse to exercise our dominance as a species and recognize that roads break up habitats, posing a serious threat to wildlife—especially animals which migrate across roads.
As the study on Brazil’s MG-010 points out, “Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of direct mortality of animal populations.”
Can’t we learn to share the road and not be so destructive?
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a 1995 Saturn SC-2 (knock on wood). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.