What to Do if You See a Turtle on the Road

Turtles are among the most threatened groups of vertebrate animals on earth—and too many are dying on our roads.

Turtle crossing a paved road
Cavan Images / Getty Images

As the weather warms up, turtles and tortoises are on the move. Especially females, who may be looking for a place to nest—and unfortunately, that place may very well be on the other side of a road. In some areas, turtle habitats are entirely boxed in by roads, meaning that these creatures are at an even higher risk of a vehicle collision.

"Because turtles are long-lived species that mature slowly and have fairly low reproductive outputs, the survival and longevity of adults, especially females, is critical to the survival of populations," explains Kiley Briggs at The Oreanne Society. "So the fact that roadkill disproportionately affects mature females means that for some populations, only losing a few turtles per year due to vehicle strikes can tilt the balance toward gradual extirpation (localized extinction)."

Turtles in Decline

Turtles, with their built-in armor, outlived the dinosaurs and have roamed the earth for more than 200 million years. But they may not survive humankind.

According to a 2018 study from the University of California Davis, approximately 61% of the world's 356 turtle species are threatened or already extinct, and the decline could have ecological consequences. The authors explain that turtles are now among the most threatened groups of vertebrate animals on earth, more so than birds, mammals, fish, or amphibians.

"The ecological importance of turtles, especially freshwater turtles, is underappreciated, and they are generally understudied by ecologists," says Josh Ennen, a research scientist at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. "The alarming rate of turtle disappearance could profoundly affect how ecosystems function as well as the structure of biological communities around the globe."

If You See a Turtle on the Road

Turtle Crossing Sign
Philippe Gerber / Getty Images

Given that many turtles are relatively small and slow and cars are relatively big and fast, the languorous creatures need all the help they can get when crossing a road. The folks at PETA recommend the following.

Stop Safely

If you spot a turtle on the road, pull over safely to a safe location and help them cross quickly.

Escort Them in the Right Direction

Always escort turtles in the direction they’re heading—otherwise, they’ll turn back into traffic, determined to reach their destination.

Pick Up Small Turtles

Smaller turtles can be picked up by gently holding their shell with both hands between their front and back legs and carried across the road. (Please do not pick up a turtle by its tail.)

common snapping Turtle
Common snapping turtle. pazham / Getty Images

Take Extra Care with Large and Snapping Turtles

Large turtles and snapping turtles should be handled as little as possible. They can be gently encouraged into a cat or dog carrier or onto a solid, flat surface (such as a piece of sturdy cardboard) that can be safely moved a short distance with the turtle on top of it.

Don't Assume a Turtle is Dead

Never assume that a turtle who has been hit by a car is dead. As PETA explains, turtles have a very metabolism and can suffer for weeks before dying. Even if the shell is cracked or shattered, as gory as the situation may seem, the turtle may still need your help. Test for a reaction by pinching a back toe or gently touching the corner of an eyelid. Injured turtles should be contained and transported to a veterinary clinic or wildlife rehabilitator right away.

Find the Nearest Wildlife Help

So you've got an injured animal? Head to the website Animal Help Now and type in your location and type of wildlife emergency, and they will direct you to the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.

“Lending a helping hand could be the difference between life and death for these slow-moving animals, who deserve to get where they’re going in one piece just as much as we do,” says PETA Vice President Emily Allen. “Roads become turtle-killing fields in the summer, and PETA urges everyone to keep their eyes peeled for opportunities to be a hero to turtles.”