The petition calling for the Government to make it a legal requirement for drivers to stop & report collisions with cats in England has received 102,436 signatures. It calls for Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to be amended so that cats are included in the list of animals reported to the police in road traffic collisions:

The impact on a persons’ mental health when their cat is hit by a car can be profound and devastating, and cat owners should be entitled to the same due process afforded to dog owners.

Under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, a driver is required to stop & report accidents involving specific animals including dogs, but not cats. This requirement arises from their status as working animals rather than as domestic pets, but many dogs are pets, not working animals.

Motorists should be required to report collisions with cats in the same way as collisions with dogs, so that the cat’s owners can be informed. Many cat owners feel excluded by the law.

The Government published a response to the petition on 7 February 2022. This stated that the Government “has no plans to make it an offence to drive off after hitting a cat” and included the following reasons:

Having a law making it a requirement to report road accidents involving cats would be very difficult to enforce and we have reservations about the difference it would make to the behaviour of drivers, who are aware that they have run over a cat and do not report it.

Although there is no obligation to report all animal deaths on roads, Rule 286 of The Highway Code advises drivers to report any accident involving an animal to the police, and if possible, they should make enquiries to ascertain the owner of domestic animals and advise them of the situation.

The Petitions Committee carried out public engagement exercise on on requiring motorists to stop and report collisions with cats,  in advance of the planned debate, which was published on 19 December 2022.  The summary of the online survey reports that respondents said that that cats “should be recognised in law in the same way as dogs because many legal requirements, such as microchipping, are the same for cat and dog owners”. 

The charity Cats Matter is campaigning for the legislation to be changed, and for it to be compulsory for local authorities to scan any cat found for microchips and to notify the owners.

Existing legislation on dogs and cats

Existing legislation requires all dogs, other than working dogs, to wear a collar with the owner’s name and address when on a highway or public place.  There is also a requirement under regulations for all dogs to be microchipped and for the microchips to be registered with an accredited database. 

Dogs and cats are both defined as property under common law, but differently to cats, dog owners are required to keep dogs under control in public. Cats Protection summarises this difference as follows:

It is often thought that cats have a right to roam wherever they wish. This idea is based on the fact that dog and livestock owners are obliged by law to keep their animals under control – but these duties do not apply to cat owners. The law recognises that cats are less likely to cause injury to people or damage property than some other animals.

However, cat owners do have a duty at law to take reasonable care to ensure that their cats do not injure people or damage property. Cases involving damage to property or injury to people by cats are rare.

In addition, Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 requires anyone involved in an accidents where damage is caused to an animal (defined as meaning horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog) to be reported the police if there is nobody present to give their name and address to. The RAC provides advice for drivers on what to do if they hit an animal with a car.

The Government does intend to introduce regulations requiring all cats to be microchipped as set out in a written response from November 2022 which stated that it planned “to lay regulations by the end of 2022 which will bring compulsory cat microchipping into force after a transition period”.  However, these have not yet been introduced.

Local authorities and Highways England

While there is no legislation requiring local authorities or Highways England to scan cats when found both are expected to do so as part of best practice, as set out by the Government:

It is established good practice for local authorities to scan any cat or dog found on the streets so that the owner can be informed. Cats Protection report that 80% of councils in England routinely scan cats involved in accidents.

Additionally, Highways England has clear guidelines for contractors to follow when they find a deceased cat or dog. This process is designed with owners in mind, giving them the best chance of being informed of the incident to allow closure. The process is laid out in the Network Management Manual and in 2015 the necessary arrangements were made in all Highways England’s contracts to collect and identify cats and dogs killed on the strategic road network and to contact their owners.

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