The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) are “beefing up” enforcement and awareness, working together to help prevent vehicle collisions involving livestock.
Over the past year, the Sheriff’s Office and CHP have received numerous reports of livestock being struck by motorists. While Humboldt County is not a “free-range” county, meaning livestock must be contained on private property with a lawful fence, there are some instances where you might find livestock on the road.
Did you know that some county roads run through private property? As a rural county, several Humboldt County roads have easements granting the public passage through otherwise private lands; some of these lands being livestock pastures. On county roads with easements, livestock have the right of way. While a fence is still needed to keep them on their property, it is not needed to keep them off the section of the road running through the property (often marked by cattle guards). This does not apply to state highways, where a lawful fence is required, and livestock are not permitted to freely cross.
What does this mean for motorists? You might encounter a cow or other livestock blocking a county road. Under California law, it is the driver’s responsibility to safely navigate any roadway, making it your responsibility to see the road hazard caused by livestock in the road and respond accordingly (Vehicle Code §22350). Not only can your vehicle become heavily damaged in a collision with livestock, you could be on the hook legally. California Food and Agricultural Code §21855 says a person can be held financially responsible for the wrongful killing or slaughter of cattle, up to four times the value of the cattle. Additionally, if you hit livestock and flee the scene, you could be facing hit and run charges.
If you encounter livestock in the roadway, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol encourage drivers to do the following:
- When navigating roadways with cattle guards, drivers should slow down and be prepared for any livestock that may be on the roadway or around any turn.
- Drivers should observe all posted signs regarding Livestock Crossing or livestock on the roadway.
- In areas where livestock are present, drivers should always use caution while operating motor vehicles, especially during times of darkness and inclement weather.
- If livestock are blocking your passage, stop and wait for them to vacate the roadway or navigate around them if safely able to do so. For your safety, do not leave your vehicle in an attempt to move livestock off of the road.
If you accidentally strike a cow or other livestock with your vehicle, please contact the California Highway Patrol at 707-268-2000 or the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251.