Due to the widespread practice of allowing farm animals to roam free – during the summer months, traffic accidents involving them, and sheep in particular, are relatively common in rural Iceland. Fear of legal action, however, often deters drivers from reporting such incidents.
“It’s very common for people to hit a lamb or a sheep and then just drive away without letting anyone know. People rarely report these accidents but instead it’s motorists who notice the animals dead or injured by the side of the road who call them in,” said Erna Ósk Guðnadóttir, farmer from Reykhólahreppur municipality, in an interview with Morgunblaðið earlier this week. “You can simply call 112 and the police will let the farmer know. You can even just call or knock at the nearest farm and say you hit a lamb or a sheep and whoever receives the information can relay it to the owner.”
Most incidents, Erna said, involve smaller animals, such as lambs, unexpectedly dashing into the path of a moving car. “That’s how it happens 99 percent of the time. The lambs are on one side of the road and sprint across to their mothers when a car drives by.”
Often animals can be saved if they are attended to in time, but when accidents aren’t reported, once the injury is discovered it can be too late. “Last year we had to put down an adult sheep because someone drove over her leg, which had become gangrenous. No one reported it and she was in the fields injured the entire summer,” said Erna of one such incident.
Expectations of fines and legal action are widely considered the primary deterrents to reporting. That is a misunderstanding, said Erna. “I would much prefer for people to let me know than for them to drive away afraid I’m going to fine them. This sort of thing is obviously always an accident.” Most farmers are also insured and will not pursue damages against drivers, she adds. “We won’t be angry, we’re just glad to be notified.”