Should You Swerve?

Seen all that roadkill on Australian highways? Here's how to sidestep becoming collateral damage in a kamikaze kangaroo attack

You need to get over those bad re-runs of Skippy. Skippy was a fictional character that always saved the day despite being about as smart as a politician. Actual, real kangaroos are bastards.

Roadkill revenge: that's when you swerve to avoid a kangaroo (or and other animal on the Coat of Arms, or even any other animal) and, while you might miss the animal, you lose control, slide and crash. Watch the video below and see a rare roadkill revenge near miss. (I'm driving.)

Roadkill revenge: The back-story

As a motoring journalist I've written about this whole roadkill revenge scenario many times, and I've had plenty of 'roadkill revenge' close calls while driving on highways and backroads. But recently we managed to capture a roadkill revenge near-miss on video. It wasn't intentional: we were filming a car video, and the car in question was an Hyundai Elantra. The filming was taking place on Brindabella Road in the ACT - a real roadkill revenge hotspot. 

When you're shooting a car video on a tight schedule and you manage to stuff the only car you've got to shoot into a kangaroo at 100km/h, you better hope you have all the required footage in the can. Either way, you're certain to have an ... interesting ... If you don't (and we didn't) it's a kind of roadkill revenge 'own goal'. But, hey, no pressure...

Roadkill revenge: what happened

Brindabella road cuts along the side of a steep hill. In the video I'm doing about 100km/h, following the camera car (quite close, even though the fixed camera on the car has a wide-angle lens, which makes the Elantra look further away than it was in reality). I was about 1-2 car lengths back from the camera car when roadkill revenge manifested itself. When this happens, it happens quick.

A kangaroo hopped up the gully and joined the road level with the rear of the camera car (the driver of the camera car, an expert driver and former rally champion, didn't even see it).

Here's what I did.

  1. Hard on the brakes because less speed means less severe consequences, whatever happens.
  2. Move as far left as possible, away from roadkill's revenge - but don't leave the blacktop. Running onto the soft shoulder is a major cause of loss of control incidents and subsequent impacts/rollovers.
  3. Be prepared to hit the animal, if that looks unavoidable. It's often a better option (for you, not Skippy) than swerving and crashing into something hard and unyielding at the roadside.
  4. You have to make a snap decision: to swerve or not. There is some danger in swerving (oncoming vehicle impact, loss of control, rollover). This is mitigated the slower your speed is at the moment you swerve (which is why braking early is important). You need to have both hands on the wheel to swerve competently.

Roadkill revenge & target fixation

When you're facing an emergency situation that's dynamic and unfolding quickly (roadkill revenge, kid runs out, truck fails to stop at a red light, etc.) you need to take appropriate remedial action. Mostly this involves braking and swerving, or braking and hitting (your choice). Firstly, though, you need to see what's happening. That's quite critical. Then you need to compute a course that (hopefully) misses whatever the problem is. Simple. Except it's not. Most people look at the obstacle: and guess what? They hit it. Same things happen with potholes: you look at one, you hit it. Guaranteed.

Solution? You need to look for the escape route, not at the obstacle. Under pressure, drivers steer where they're looking. If you're looking at the kid/truck/roadkill revenge, you will probably hit it. Do not get target fixation; look for the gap instead. Hard to do, but drops the risk of roadkill revenge by several orders of magnitude.

Roadkill revenge preparation

Obviously, this particular incident turned out for the best (for all parties including the Coat of Arms).ut it could have gone either way. This is why it pays to run through what you're going to do, mentally, beforehand - several times. (The worst place to practice for an emergency - any emergency - is during the actual emergency. Just ask a pilot.)

Roadkill revenge risk factors

It's also worth noting that the most popular times for roadkill revenge-type incidents are dawn and dusk. At these times, animals are at their most active, and human eyesight is at its most compromised. Annoyingly, evolution has not equipped animals with road sense because, let's face it, roads are only 100 or so years old. (Here, the near-roadkill revenge moment occurred approaching dusk - a good time for motion pictures; a bad time for roadkill revenge.)

This means you can greatly reduce the risk of having a roadkill revenge moment simply by electing not to drive around dawn and dusk, where possible.

If you must drive at these times, drive slower. Small reductions in travelling speed make for large reductions in stopping distance. And the slower you go, the more controllable your evasive action will be.