If you’re a pet owner, it’s almost impossible for you to leave the house without your dog wanting to ride along. All it takes is a jingle of your car keys and you’ll feel a brush across your leg as your dog heads to the car and waits at the car door until you open it.
After the car starts, your pooch begins a cycle of jumping from the back seat to the front seat to the passenger window and to your lap. There’s something about movement that excites a dog. Unfortunately, your unrestrained dog can become a distraction.
It is not uncommon to pull up to a stoplight, only to see a driver’s canine companion excitedly exploring the inside of the car or lapping at its owner’s cheek in a show of appreciation for the ride. You may have even pulled up to a car of that greeted you with one or two barking dogs eager to communicate their displeasure of your impeding arrival.
Dog owners are not the only ones who could be adversely affected by the above mentioned scenarios. Other motorists are at risk, as well. Drivers busy observing the doggy shenanigans in the next car can fall victim to being involved in a car crash due to their propensity to be distracted.
In addition, unsuspecting drivers could become startled by a dog barking viciously out of the window next to them. With that said, startled drivers make for dangerous drivers because it causes them to be distracted away from the task of driving or their surroundings.
An analysis done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers double their risk of an accident when they take their eyes off the road for two seconds. So, each time you’re watching your dog move around in the car, you’re at risk of having a crash.
Dogs Distract Drivers
Nearly six in 10 people responding to a 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo, a maker of pet travel products, said that their dog distracts them while driving. The survey also found that 52 percent of respondents pet their dog while driving and 23 percent said they use their hands or arms to either restrict their dog’s movement or hold their dog in place when braking.
It is understandable that dog owners are inclined to pet their dogs while driving because this is a natural interaction they are accustomed to while at home. Though this is a mutually enjoyed activity for both dog and owner, it is imperative that the driver keep their hands and an eye on the road at all times in order to avoid an accident.
In addition, the instinctive response of an owner towards their canine baby is very evident as they travel together. As the survey demonstrates, the need to outstretch their arm to protect their pooch as they brake speaks to countless dog owners. However, this also speaks to the need to drive safely to protect driver, dog, and other motorist obliviously sharing the roadway.
Very few states, including Missouri, have laws mandating drivers to restrain their pets when their vehicles are in motion. In recent years, however, pet safety advocates have urged pet owners to restrain their dogs, not only to reduce distraction but to protect the animals in the event of a vehicle crash. Bark Buckle UP, a team of pet safety experts, claims that a 60-pound dog that is not restrained can become a “2,700 pound projectile” when slammed into a seat, passenger or a windshield at 35 mph.
According to Missouri State Highway Patrol statistics, 786 people were killed and 51,060 were injured in traffic crashes in 2011, the latest year available. While some of the crashes involved drivers hitting animals on the road, there doesn’t appear to be statistics regarding pet-related accidents. Under Missouri statutes, distracted drivers who cause accidents are held liable for any property damage or personal injuries. Neither law enforcement nor auto insurers will accept “it was the dog’s fault” as an excuse.
Keeping Your Dog Safe
Just as a safety belt keeps you and your passenger safe, there are safety products for pets, as well. Visit your local pet supply store and you’ll find seat belt harnesses that go around your dog’s body to keep him still.
If your dog doesn’t like the confinement of a booster seat, try a tether that allows your pooch to have limited movement in the back seat. You may want to try different products to see which ones he likes the best. If all else fails, it is also okay to bring along a kennel for your dog, especially on lengthy trips.
Much of the focus is on dogs since cats are not as thrilled about riding in cars. With a few exceptions, cats are pretty much satisfied sitting in the front window of your house watching cars instead of being in one.
But your “best friend” prefers being with you in the car, which is why it’s important that you prevent your him from becoming a distraction and keep your pet as safe as possible in the car.