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Dog Days: Accidents Caused by Distracted Drivers & Their Dogs

Craig McClellan

In many cities and states, drivers who are caught using their phone behind the wheel face fines. This was part of the movement to decrease the number of traffic incidents related to distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 3,000 people were killed in 2010 due in part to distracted driving. In addition, nearly 450,000 were injured in car accidents involving a participant driving while distracted. Interestingly enough, another form of distracted driving is becoming more of a concern: unrestrained pets.

The Dog Days Are Over

A former California legislator introduced a bill that sought to fine people who drive with animals on their laps. It did not pass because the governor did not believe it was a priority. So far, only a handful of states have passed legislation requiring restraint of animals in moving vehicles.

In Hawaii, it is illegal to drive with a pet on your lap. Under distracted driving laws in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, drivers can be cited for a violation if found driving with a pet in their laps. Similar legislation has been proposed in Rhode Island. At this point, it is still disputed whether unrestrained pets are a serious enough distraction for lawmakers to be more concerned.

The Issue of a Pet Co-Pilot

According to a survey taken by AAA and Kurgo Pet Passenger, 65% of the dog owners surveyed admitted to engaging in at least one distracting activity while driving with their dog.

These distracting activities included the following:

  • Petting the dog (52%)
  • Using hands or arms to restrict dog’s movement when braking (23%)
  • Using hands or arms to prevent dog from climbing into back / frontseat (19%)
  • Reaching into backseat to interact with dog (13%)
  • Giving food to dog (13%)
  • Playing with the dog (4%)
  • Taking a photo with the dog (3%)

At least 84% of these respondents also did not restrain their pets while in the vehicle. All these distracting activities take more than enough attention away from the road to cause a serious accident.

Pets Turned Projectiles

In addition to being a distraction, some pets can also cause a lot of damage after an accident. Research has shown that an unrestrained 10lb dog in a crash at 50mph will exert roughly 500lbs of force. An unrestrained 80lb dog in a crash at only 30mph will exert approximately 2400lbs of force. That type of projectile can cause serious injuries to whoever gets hit by the dog. An unrestrained dog could also run off after a crash and get hit by another vehicle or cause another car crash.

While more states are starting to consider this as a safety matter, it is doubtful that any sweeping changes will happen in the near future. Even so, experts suggest that all pets be restrained in the car using either a harness or a pet carrier. These methods protect the pet as well as the driver because a sudden stop or collision can propel an animal forward with a great deal of force causing injury to the pet or any human passengers in the car.