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Avoid collisions with animals when off-roading

Being able to venture into nature is one of the many benefits of off-roading. Yet as you traverse the land and trails around parks and public spaces, you have to be aware of the effect you are having on the environment. While you are almost certainly doing your best to leave the scenery as you found it, there are times when unavoidable incidents involving animals pop up. These collisions can be harmful to you, the creature and your car, so it is especially important to do your best to avoid crashes with animals. 

"A driver may encounter any number of scenarios at any given moment behind the wheel," said Dr. William Van Tassel, manager of AAA Driver Training Programs. "Remaining alert and limiting distractions is a must. Animals are unpredictable, so the sooner you see them in the roadway, the more time you will have to safely react." 

Here are three of the biggest things you can do to avoid animal collisions when off-roading: 

Customize your headlights
The key to avoiding collisions is maximizing your visibility. This begins by staying attentive to your surroundings, but there are some truck modifications that can enhance your sight lines. High-beam LED headlights can go a long way toward providing better visibility thanks to their bright light and low power usage. They are also easily manipulated, which makes them ideal for adding to an existing vehicle. 

Other ways to improve visibility include replacing wiper blades, as upgrading these accessories can result in cleaner windshields. When you are mudding or dune bashing, you frequently find mud and other debris covering the front and rear windshield as well as essential mirrors. Having fresh wiper blades ensures you can clean off these surfaces and have a picture-perfect view of the trail ahead. 

Update your brakes
An important concept to keep in mind when off-road driving is that braking can be much safer and more effective than swerving. Although your initial reaction upon seeing an animal in your path may be to swerve away, that may cause more harm than good. You expose yourself to unknown dangers when you go off trails - and you can potentially hurt other animals in the process. Firmly applying the brakes - and having high-performing brakes that will work in a pinch - is your ideal option. 

"These crashes happen so fast, often times drivers don't have the option of making a decision about what to do," Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told USA Today. "But the best thing, unfortunately, in most cases is to hit the animal and try to avoid swerving or doing something that could cause you to lose control and hit somebody else or an object, or go off the road and roll over." 

Know what to look for
Ultimately, the best result would be to prevent these collisions before they happen. This is not always possible, but your best bet is to know what to look for in all scenarios and react appropriately. The first thing you should examine is your environment. Are you in a state park that has lots of leafy, covered areas? Then you need to be more aware of animals being startled from their habitats and jumping in front of your off-road vehicle. Slowing down as you approach blind turns and obeying speed limits are both extremely important. 

You should be particularly cautious at dawn and dusk. These are common times for animals to be on the move and the unique lighting can cause issues with visibility. If you're alert and focused on the potential for collisions, however, you can avoid these crashes.