Why Do Squirrels Run Out in Front of Cars?

If you live in an area that has a lot of trees around and therefore creatures like squirrels and chipmunks, you’ve probably had the following experience.

You are driving, trying to get to your destination, and from what seems like nowhere, a squirrel runs out in front of your car.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to hit the squirrel, so you try to safely avoid hitting the squirrel.

Even if all went well, you are now struck with a flood of adrenaline coursing through you. Why did the squirrel decide that now was a good time to run out?

Today, we will go over why squirrels decide to run out on busy roads in front of cars, even though they know that they have no chance against them.

Why Do Squirrels Risk Their Lives Running Out in Front of Cars?

Squirrels can seem nutty when running out in front of cars, especially when the road is super busy. But there has to be a reason, right?

While there isn’t a 100% answer to why squirrels show this behavior, there are a few possible reasons that can explain this behavior.

Running From a Predator

A valid reason why a squirrel might jump out in front of a car is that they are running from a predator.

The squirrel might be chased out to the side of a road and is faced with a tough decision: try to run in a different direction and risk the predator catching up or go into the road and risk the car.

A squirrel might realize that larger animals are more likely to get hit by a car if they go out onto a road whereas a squirrel has better luck dodging wheels because of their small size. 

If a squirrel goes out into a road with cars, the predator won’t be able to follow them. It is a risky move, but they have a better chance of survival.

They Think They Can Because of Their Size

This was touched on in the previous reason, but squirrels are tiny creatures.

They are extremely fast and agile creatures too. With that, squirrels might think that they have a good chance of dodging cars when they go out into the road. 

When a squirrel runs out into the road and stops in front of your car, they might be thinking they will be fine if they get in between your wheels and you go over it. 


It might seem weird that an instinct of squirrels includes them running out in front of traffic where they are put in a ton of danger. However, due to their perception, they don’t see it as such.

Squirrels are prey so they have the instinct of darting around and running away when they sense danger. Cars are big and dangerous, so it makes sense for a squirrel to perceive them as a threat. 

However, this perception can cause them to try and run away… out into the middle of the road.

Instead of running away from a road, they might dart across the road to the other side in an attempt to get away from the car. 

In fact, it’s instinct for a squirrel to freeze in front of a predator and then dash away at the last possible second. They try to fake out their predators, but that doesn’t work with going against machinery moving at 40 mph. 

It’s not the smartest thing a squirrel can do, but what can you expect? Squirrels don’t understand cars the same way that we do. 

Squirrels Can’t See a Cars Depth

Squirrels don’t have the best eyesight and the reason why they dart out in front of cars is simply that they can’t see how far away the car is. 

Squirrels have eyes on the side of their head instead of in front of their head like us. This does wonders for their peripheral vision, but their eyes don’t cross their information, meaning that they have terrible depth perception.

With the poor depth perception that squirrels have, they might not be able to tell how close a car is when they decide to try and cross the road. 

A Distracted Squirrel

It’s bad enough when a squirrel darts out in front of your car when you are driving, it’s worse when they suddenly stop. Now you both have to not hit the squirrel, but also have to wait for it to get out of your way.

A squirrel can get distracted by a lot of things. If they are trying to cross the road and hear a noise, like your horn, for example, they might stop to figure out what the sound was.

This means that they are now sitting in the middle of the road listening to noises. 

Squirrels can also get distracted by trying to figure out where they should go. They then will stop in the middle of the road, considering their choices of what direction they should go in even though we just want them to finish crossing the road. 

They might also be distracted by searching for food. If it’s fall where you are and the acorns are falling from the trees, you will see squirrels on the hunt for getting enough food to last the winter.

If there are acorns across the road or even in the road, you might see a squirrel dash out into the road not caring about the severe danger that is your car.

This time of year is when cars hit squirrels the most because of their tendency to run out into the road.

There are many reasons why a squirrel will run out into the middle of the road and there aren’t a lot of reasons that we as humans would understand.

But we should understand that squirrels have been around longer than cars have and that they aren’t going to understand the intensity of this machinery the same way that we do. 

Be prepared for when a squirrel or any animal runs out in front of you by watching this informational video below. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Squirrels Go Back and Forth on the Road?

Another one of the squirrels’ confusing behavior is that they will sometimes run back and forth on the road especially when there are cars.

The best explanation for this goes back to the instincts of squirrels.

Most often, a squirrel will run back and forth on the road because they perceive the cars around them as predators. One of the ways a squirrel will confuse its predator is by running back and forth. 

Squirrels are trying to confuse the car that it thinks is a predator, even though we as humans know that this won’t work.

Why Do Squirrels Go Under Cars?

Even though a squirrel will think that cars are predators when they are moving, squirrels also can find comfort in a car.

If you are having a squirrel problem with the under part of your car, it could be because the squirrel finds that area warm and safe.

For squirrels, the under part of a car can make a great nesting spot like other dark and warm spaces would in nature.

If you live in an area that has many squirrels, make sure that they haven’t made a second home under your car.

What Scents Will Keep Squirrels Away?

Whether you are having a car squirrel problem or your dog is being tormented by squirrels in your yard, you might want to have something to repel squirrels from your stuff.

Squirrels hate certain scents. Any strong scent like garlic, peppermint, lemon, and cinnamon will do a good job of repelling squirrels, other small mammals, and even insects away from your place.

Other scents to use are white vinegar, Irish spring soap, and capsaicin. Squirrels also hate these smells.

How Many Squirrels Are Hit by Cars?

So many squirrels get hit by cars each year. The average number of squirrels that get hit annually is 41 million squirrels.

That’s a huge number considering how squirrels aren’t common everywhere that there are cars. 

While squirrels are doing a good job making sure that this loss doesn’t impact their squirrel population, the number is still super high. 

This is why it’s super important to be aware of animals running out into the road when you are driving.

Be especially alert during the fall because that’s when many animals, including squirrels, are out getting supplies to prepare for winter.

Final Thoughts

Squirrels can be weird with their behavior, but animals have a reason for doing the actions that they do.

There are several possible reasons why a squirrel will run out in front of a car from running away from a predator to searching for food.

When you are driving in an area that has plenty of squirrels, keep your eye out so you don’t become a squirrel killer.

If you have had a weird situation with a squirrel running out in front of your car, share in the comments.

@Image credits: AlanGeorge/Boys-in-Bristol

About Justin Stewart

With a deep knowledge of plants, landscaping, and sustainable gardening practices, his engaging content offers practical tips, creative ideas to help you transform your backyards into thriving green havens. Get ready to unlock your backyard's full potential!

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