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Safety 101: How to Help a Turtle Cross the Road

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We might all be talking about the chickens, but it’s really the turtles that need our attention when it comes to crossing the road.

How to Help a Turtle Cross the Road

Learn how to help a turtle cross the road safely
Photo: Bree McGhee

The months between April and October are an adventurous, perilous time for one of Earth’s most gentle and adorably grumpy creatures: the turtle. While males are looking for mates and females are looking for a comfy spot to lay their eggs, the time is ripe for you to spot a little turtle trying to make its way across a busy highway.

Tragically, about one third of North America’s turtle species is close to endangerment, and roughly half of all known endangered reptiles in the world are of the turtle variety. What’s worse is that an enormous factor in this decline is due largely to road kill.

But you can help!

If you see a turtle that appears to be crossing the road—or looks like it might try to, sitting on the edges of a lane—you are the perfect person to help. Turtles are easy-to-predict, docile creatures that will do you no harm at all if handled correctly.


Here is a quick guide about how to help a turtle cross the road:

1. Pull your vehicle over to the side of the road, and put your blinkers on. Make sure that people realize you are pulling over.

2. Slowly approach the turtle, and pick it up by its sides, from behind. As long as your fingers are nowhere near its head, it won’t be able to bite you. Their necks are not long and cannot turn sharply.

3. Remember that if a turtle does seem to be trying to bite you, it is likely a female turtle desperately trying to protect the eggs that she is carrying. She doesn’t realize that you are helping her.

4. If you are on a calm, two-lane road, look both ways, and cross the street with the turtle. Place it gently back on the ground, pointing away from the road. Look both ways again before walking back to your vehicle.

5. If you are on the highway or any sort of busy road, be safe. Protect yourself. If you’d like to help the turtle but the road is too busy for you to cross, consider placing the turtle in a box in your car, and then driving it to the other side.

6. ALWAYS take the turtle to its intended destination. Even if the turtle wants to go to the side of the road opposite of where you know a lake or stream to be, do not turn it around or put it back. Turtles are determined creatures (just remember the folktale!), and if you put them back at their starting point, they will just try to cross again.

Lastly, never pick up a turtle and keep it for your own. Not only do most people consider it wrong to put a wild turtle in captivity, but also it may very likely be illegal in your state. Turtles are one of the most frequently abandoned pets in America. If you want a pet turtle, do some research, and consider adopting one that needs a home.