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Vet baffled by road rule allowing motorists to leave birds to die

Not taking “reasonable steps” to help an animal you strike with your car could land you in jail or see you severely fined, under NSW law.

Section 14 of the state’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTA) also mandates that motorists involved in a collision with a domestic animal let the person in charge of it, or an officer, know

Strangely, this regulation – first introduced in 1979 – has one glaring exemption.

Motorists in NSW do not need to stop and assist if they strike a bird. Source: Getty
Motorists in NSW do not need to stop and assist if they strike a bird. Source: Getty

Motorists who hit one of state’s hundreds of bird species are distinctly excused from having to stop and help.

Four little words – "other than a bird" – are what seemingly allows drivers to hit and run when it comes to our feathered friends.

That’s about to change if the NSW Animal Justice Party’s Emma Hurst has her way. She’s calling for the specific mention of birds to be erased from the Act.

“Birds are complex animals. They are highly intelligent. They have the ability to feel pain and fear,” she said.

“To exempt them from laws designed to protect animals makes no sense.”

The RSPCA has also queried the exclusion of birds, issuing a statement to Yahoo News Australia.

"RSPCA NSW considers there is no justifiable reason to exclude birds from the category of animals protected by this provision," an RSPCA NSW spokesperson said.

Existing law rarely applied

The law is seldom used, with data revealing between 1 July 2016 and 1 March 2022 only four penalty notices have been issued, totalling $800 in fines.

Despite this Dr Rosemary Elliott, President at Sentient Veterinary Institute, said she’s “quite baffled” by the exclusion of birds from the road rule.

She believes “speciesism” is the central issue, as birds are “highly intelligent, sentient beings”.

The result she says is a “devaluing” of birds, and the their exclusion “has really got to be challenged”.

A leading NSW vet says the exclusion of bird has left her
A leading NSW vet says the exclusion of bird has left her "baffled". Source: Getty

“They suffer the same pain if they're injured as any other animal,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“There’s absolutely so reason for birds to be excluded.”

Dr Elliot has also questioned why only collisions with domestic animals must be reported, adding that reporting injured wildlife to rescue groups should also be required.

Authorities 'considering feedback' on bird road rule

The Department of Primary Industries did not respond to a specific question about whether it supports changing the wording to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

The department said in a statement that a draft animal welfare bill was published in January, a document which still includes the phrase “other than a bird”.

“The NSW Government is considering all feedback received on the draft bill,” a spokesperson added.

The response from the NSW Government was more direct, with NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders appearing to shoot down any chance of greater bird protection in the immediate future.

“Road kill is an unfortunate and often confronting part of living and working in regional Australia," he told Yahoo News Australia.

“Human safety should be the first consideration when driving on our regional and remote roads.

“At this stage, the NSW Government is not considering changes to Section 14 of the POCTA Act to remove the sentence ‘other than birds’ from the legislation.”

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