By Kim Salerno
While driving under the influence was once the major focus of safety on the road, distracted driving of all kinds has gained national attention in recent years. Texting and driving has proven to be the latest serious road hazard; it has cost a number of lives, and 42 states have developed laws and campaigns against it.
Now many states are focusing their attention on a new threat - one that has gone under the radar thus far, but may prove to be as dangerous as texting and driving. This one involves the widely practiced habit of driving with a pet on one’s lap.
Why it’s a problem
There are no real statistics to say exactly how many crashes and other traffic incidents pets on laps cause each year. However, The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chance of a crash, and two seconds is all it would take for a frightened or excited pet to jump up on you, claw you, climb up onto the dashboard, or worse - crawl under the brake pedal.
A 2011 AAA and Kurgo survey sought to ferret out the truth about how and why people drive with their pets, as well as any potential distractions their furry friends might potentially cause. The findings were interesting, to say the least; nearly 60 percent of respondents had driven with their pets in the last month, and 31 percent admitted to being distracted by their pet while driving. Distractions included everything from feeding and petting their pets to taking their photos while driving.
Seventeen percent of respondents who drove with their pet - nearly one in five - admitted to either allowing their pet to sit on their lap or holding them while driving. Twenty-three percent admitted to using their hands or arms to secure their pet when they hit the brakes.
Respondents cited several reasons for not restraining their pets in the car. The biggest of these reasons was their pet’s temperament; they considered their pet to be calm enough to make restraints unnecessary. Many respondents had simply never considered the idea of restraints. Some said they didn’t use restraints because they only went on short trips. And a few respondents noted that they wanted their dog to be able to put his head out the window.
Beyond potentially causing an accident, there are other very real dangers to allowing a pet to sit on your lap. If a crash were to occur, a small dog could easily be crushed by a deployed airbag or thrown from the car and injured. In addition, during a crash an unrestrained dog can act as a missile. As AAA National Traffic Safety Programs Manager Jennifer Huebner-Davidson notes, "An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure . . . Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in its path."
States are taking notice of the potential dangers. Hawaii has made it illegal to carry a pet on one’s lap while driving, and many other states have introduced, considered or enacted legislation meant to stop drivers from traveling unsafely with pets. As a result, in some states, driving with your pet on your lap can earn you a traffic stop or a fine. Even in some states where there is no specific law pertaining to driving with a pet on one’s lap, you can still be cited for doing so under broader distracted driving laws.
Increased awareness would likely also make a great difference. AAA notes that drivers who have heard of cases where unrestrained dogs were injured or caused injury to someone during a crash were three times likely to use a restraint.
While we love our pets and want them to enjoy every experience with us, the safest place for them (and everyone else riding along) is to be properly secured in the back seat. There are a number of options available for properly securing your pet that are quite comfortable and still allow them some freedom of movement. The small investment is well worth it if it means the peace of mind of pet parents, and the safety of their furry kids.
Kim Salerno is the President & Founder of TripsWithPets.com. She founded the pet travel site in 2003 and is an expert in the field of pet travel. Her popular web site features pet friendly hotels & accommodations across the US and Canada, along with other helpful pet travel resources. Her mission is to ensure that pets are welcome, happy, and safe in their travels.