Unleashed in the car: Doggy distraction can lead to driving devastation
It used to be that the family dog stayed home while we went to work, went shopping or went on vacation. Now, our dogs are with us constantly. We even take them on quick trips to the corner convenience store. Most dogs are safely secured in carriers or harnesses. Others, however, can be found riding shotgun or on our laps.
A 2010 survey by AAA found that one in five dog owners acknowledged they’ve driven with a dog on their laps. Just like talking on a cellphone, driving with an unrestrained dog is a form of distracted driving. In a crash, an unrestrained dog can turn into a deadly projectile or get crushed by a driver or passenger who’s thrown forward.
“Restraining your pet when driving can not only help protect your pet, but you and other passengers in your vehicle as well,” says Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager of traffic safety programs at AAA.
A pet projectile
It’s thought that thousands of car accidents a year are caused by doggy distraction, but there are no numbers to back up that belief, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one-fifth of injury accidents in 2009 involved distracted driving of all types.
“Distracted drivers are more likely to take their eyes off the road and potentially cause a car accident and that can lead to higher auto insurance rates,” Worters says.
|Ninety-eight percent of dogs that ride in cars are unrestrained, according to Paws to Click.|
Doggy distraction can harm you, your pooch, other motorists and even pedestrians.
An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 miles per hour will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at just 30 miles per hour will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure. “Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle in its path,” Huebner-Davidson says.
To prevent such devastation, here are six tips for dog owners to follow while behind the wheel:
• Don’t drive with your dog on your lap.
• Don’t let your dog ride shotgun.
• Don’t give your dog free reign in the car.
• Secure your dog in a crate in the back of your car.
• Secure your dog in your car with a padded harness connected to a seat belt.
• Use a pet seat or basket-style holder to contain small dogs.
The long paw of the law
At least eight states have laws requiring owners to crate their dogs in the vehicle’s open areas, usually a truck bed. Those states are Connecticut, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island. If you’re caught with an unrestrained dog in one of those states, traffic fines range between $50 and $200. Some exceptions to the law include dogs used for agriculture or hunting. In California, dogs can ride in the open if the vehicle’s sides are at least 46 inches high.
“Some cities have passed laws of their own,” says Worters, the Insurance Information Institute executive.
In Troy, Mich., for instance, it’s now illegal to drive with a pet in your lap.
“An unrestrained pet can be hugely distracting, especially if the dog is seeking your attention, putting its face right in front of yours, chewing up the upholstery or vomiting because it is car sick,” Worters says.
Your dog in the driver’s seat
Despite the risks, Sarah Merritt of Georgia drives with her small dog on her lap.
|Every 18 minutes in the United States, a car accident occurs because of a loose pet, according to Paws to Click.|
“I have an 11-pound Maltese who insists on sitting on my lap when we drive in the car,” Merritt says. “Although he’s small, when he suddenly wants a belly rub in four-lane traffic or decides to play musical chairs, it is very distracting.”
To curb that distraction, dogs can be kept in a carrier secured in the back of a car or be strapped into a harness in the middle of the back seat. Not everyone agrees with those remedies, though.
“I have a small mini Dachshund who sits on my lap in the car all the time,” says Amanda Parsons, who lives in upstate New York. “The reason for this is simple: Her legs are too short for her little head to look out the window.
“She is a very good dog, not excitable and sweet as can be. She merely sits on my lap and uses the extra inches of height I provide her to see outside. I don’t find this to be a distraction at all. I actually feel safer with her in my lap because if I were to get into an accident, I would know that I could protect her.”
That kind of protection isn’t fool-proof, however.
Dana Williams, a spokeswoman for Paws to Click, an initiative that promotes responsible pet travel, says that driving with a pet on your lap or having it roaming free in your car contributes to an estimated 30,000 distracted driving accidents a year. Every 18 minutes in the United States, a car accident occurs because of a loose pet, according to Paws to Click, and 98 percent of dogs travel in cars unrestrained.
The Paws to Click campaign is sponsored by Bergan, a maker of pet products.
“People do not realize what can happen during an accident or a sudden stop when a pet is not contained. They become almost like a projectile, causing injury to themselves and to others in the car,” Williams says. “A scared or hurt pet can also impede the rescue workers from helping others in the car; pets become aggressive and protective when they are scared or hurt. They can also run from the scene and become lost.”
–Michele C. Hollow