Pets pose a threat to driver safety

February 7, 2014 12:00 AM

There are countless measures that motorists take to ensure that their driving is safe. Between staying on top of auto repair aspects, such as wheel alignment or a brake service, and implementing new technologies to aid in emergency situations, drivers spend a lot of time and money to stay secure on the road. However, one unlikely suspect may be posing a threat to all of their efforts: Pets. According to the AAA Newsroom, the American Pet Products Association reported that more than 46 million households across the U.S. have dogs. It's pretty common for motorists to bring their furry friends along on quick errands or family road trips. A new survey suggests that while pets can prove to be great companions for a long drive, they can also take motorists' attention away from the wheel, thus raising the risk of an accident.

Dangerous distractions
The survey, which was conducted by AAA and Kurgo, found that nearly six in 10 participants had driven with Fido at least once a month over the past year. Of those respondents, many admitted to behaviors that could take their focus away from the road. Petting the dog proved to be the most common distraction, with more than half engaging in this habit. Another 23 percent of respondents have held their dog in place while braking, and 19 percent have used their arms or hands to stop their dog from moving into the front seat. Other notable habits reported by survey participants included reaching into the back of the car to play with their dog (18 percent), holding their furry friend in their lap (17 percent) or giving man's best friend food or a treat (13 percent). A small percentage (3 percent) even admitted to snapping a photo of their pet while driving. The problem with all of these behaviors, of course, is that they force the driver to take one hand off the wheel.

The importance of restraints
An even more concerning finding from the survey is that the majority of drivers do not use a pet restraint. Despite the fact that 83 percent of respondents realize that having an unrestrained dog can be dangerous while driving, only 16 percent use one in their cars. Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National, Traffic Safety Programs manager, asserted that drivers should use one of these restraint systems at all times, explaining that they can minimize distractions while also protecting all passengers and pets in case of a sudden stop or a collision. More than two on five motorists claimed that the reason they didn't use a pet restraint is that they don't feel they need one because their dog is calm. Still, Huebner-Davidson was adamant that it doesn't matter how calm a pet is - an unrestrained 10-pound dog can exert 300 pounds of pressure in a crash at only 30 mph.

Related research has also brought attention to this issue. In an earlier study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, it was determined that crash rates were doubled for motorists 70 years of age and older when they drove with a pet. Additionally, while 83 percent of the elderly survey respondents acknowledged that an unrestrained dog was dangerous in a moving car, only 16 percent of them had used one on their own furry companion.

The fact is, that the U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving is responsible for more than 10 percent of all U.S. highway fatalities, according to The Globe and Mail. That's why the NHTSA advises that motorists never take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds - which is hard to avoid when man's best friend is sitting in the front or backseat. The only way for drivers to ensure that every person and pet in the vehicle is secure is to implement restraints, such as crates, cages and harnesses.

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