Why do squirrels run out in front of drivers so often?

Many are focused on deer when it comes to auto accidents, but squirrels can be a problem, too

Stock image. Craige McGonigle (Pexels)

When it comes to drivers running over animals by accident, a lot of attention is rightfully focused on deer, since they are the animals that are run over the most nationwide, resulting in the most damage to cars, according to this website.

But while they’re much smaller and they don’t present the financial headache for drivers and insurance companies, squirrels can also present a problem for drivers.

An estimated 41 million squirrels are killed by drivers each year, according to WorldAtlas, and below is a breakdown of why that’s the case, and what drivers should do when a squirrel runs right out in front of them.

Why do squirrels run out in front of drivers in the first place?

Squirrels view oncoming cars as predators, and as part of their nature, the furry rodents freeze and then run out of the way at the last minute, Illinois State University assistant biology professor Rebecca Gougis told the website Squirrel Enthusiast.

In the midst of dealing with predators, squirrels tend to stop and start, and change direction constantly, which helps in avoiding animals such as foxes, hawks or owls, according to Gougis.

However, that instinct backfires miserably when a car is coming, and it has the predictable, sad result.

In addition, the depth perception of squirrels and their ability to detect how fast cars are moving are severely impeded, with their eyes positioned on the side of their heads.

Is there a time of year when squirrels are hit the most?

The fall seems to be the peak time for squirrel fatalities on the road, according to Squirrel Enthusiast.

Squirrels often try and collect food for the winter and look for places to store it, thus why they tend to cross streets a lot.

Squirrels are often most commonly born in the spring, and the fall is when they are old enough to roam out of the nest for the first time, according to Squirrel Enthusiast.

What should you do if a squirrel runs out in front of you while driving?

As sad as it sounds, it’s best to just keep driving when a squirrel is darting out in front of you.

The safety of yourself and others on the road is more important.

Trying to slam on the brakes to avoid a squirrel could lead to a person behind rear-ending you.

Attempting to swerve could lead to losing control of car and having it go off the road, or slamming into a tree or guard rail.

The best thing to do is practice defensive driving, but realize there sometimes is only so much you can do.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.