Have you ever looked at another vehicle at a stoplight or on the highway, seen a dog sitting in the driver’s lap or leaning over their shoulder, and thought, “how cute,” only to quickly realize your first thought should have really been, “how dangerous,” instead? Those exact contradicting thoughts crossed my mind when I saw the above picture posted on Facebook recently.
We are warned about keeping our focus as drivers: to stay off the cell phone and not text when behind the wheel; we are warned to not play with the radio or reach for items on the back seat or on the floor; but seldom are we warned that animals are among the most distracting “passengers” we can have in our vehicles.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) distracted driving accounts for over 10% of all U.S. highway fatalities. Not surprisingly, most surveys list “unrestrained cats and dogs inside the car” as one such internal distraction (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/19/pets-and-distracted-driving/). A survey by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, in which 90% of pet owners said they often travel with their pets, found 8% of drivers admitted to driving with those pets on their laps. In a 2011 pet safety survey conducted by AAA, 52% of drivers admitted to petting their animals while behind the wheel, even when those animals were in the backseat. Another study recently completed at the University of Alabama – Birmingham indicates the crash risk for drivers who always drove with their pets nearly doubled in comparison with those who never drove with their pets; this crash risk was especially evidenced among drivers in the 70+ age bracket (http://www.nbcnews.com/business/driving-pets-increases-crash-rates-study-says-6C9743684). Those are some significant statistics.
The Humane Society of the United States advises that we can travel safely with our pets by keeping them properly restrained in either safety harnesses or pet carriers in our back seats. Several states have taken up legislation to penalize drivers for driving with unrestrained animals in their vehicles. Although Hawaii is currently the only state that specifically prohibits a driver from driving with a pet on their lap (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/19/pets-and-distracted-driving/), Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine all have broad-enough distracted driving laws to enable law enforcement to penalize residents for such behavior as well. New Jersey is currently looking to pass a new law that could fine drivers up to $1,000 for having an unrestrained animal in a moving vehicle (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/06/n-j-other-states-turn-focus-to-pets-in-fight-against-distracted-driving/). Rhode Island and Oregon are reportedly considering similar legislation, though attempts in California and Virginia have failed in the past several years.
So, not only for our own safety, but for the safety of our beloved pets, we need to save the lap time for the sofa and make sure we properly restrain our pets in safety harnesses or carriers when we’re behind the wheel. For additional animal car trip and safety tips, visit http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_CarSafety.php