Many of us take our furry kid with us in our vehicles every day. Mocha is a reliable member of school carpool, thinks you drive thru the bank to get dog treats and same for the Starbucks drive up window. While we have been lucky to have never broken down or have an accident I do sometimes wonder about her safety in the car. Often we pull up next to a car with a little dog standing on a drivers lap, and hanging their head out the window. Dogs are the latest target in the push against distracted driving. Nearly 60% of dog owners have driven while distracted by their pets as passengers, according to a new survey by auto club AAA. Only 17% — about one in six — ever use animal restraints, which can prevent pets from being a distraction and protect them and other occupants in a crash, the survey finds.
Last week, New Jersey took a big step forward to protect drivers and pets on the road by enacting a law so that police officers can ticket any driver improperly transporting an animal, with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for each offense. (Fines can multiply for more than one animal in the vehicle.) New Jersey is not alone. In Hawaii, drivers are not allowed to drive with pets in their laps; Rhode Island and Oregon are considering doing the same. Arizona, Connecticut and Maine residents can be penalized under distracted-driving laws if they’re driving with a pet in their lap.
Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager of traffic-safety programs at AAA auto club says that unrestrained dogs pose an unintended threat to the driver and other passengers. An unrestrained 10-pound dog will exert 500 pounds of force on whatever it strikes in a crash at 50 mph. An 80-pound dog in a crash at just 30 mph will exert about 2,400 pounds. In addition, unrestrained dogs also can dangerously distract drivers by climbing onto the driver's lap, interfering with the ability to steer or crawling onto the foot pedals. “The devastation to your pet and any other passengers can be incredible” in the event of an accident, Heather Hunter, a AAA spokeswoman, told ABC News today. AAA’s Hunter said restraining a pet while traveling in a vehicle minimized distractions to the driver, protected other passengers and also allowed emergency personnel to get to the vehicle and treat passengers if an accident occurred. Restraints also stop a pet from running off when a door is opened.
“You’ve wouldn’t drive with your child in your lap, we want to keep them safe, just as you would your child,” Dr. Kat Miller of the ASPCA told ABC News.
Some other safety tips for driving with dogs:
*Crates or sturdy pet carriers are ideal for pets in cars. Pets often need a nice quiet place to rest and be alone. Secure the crate so it cannot fly forward or flip in the event of a sudden stop.
*If your car does not allow room for a crate, obtain a dog seat belt, which doubles as a harness. Such seat belts are available from many pet supply stores and web merchants.
*Or install a pet barrier to keep dogs in the back seat.
*If you don't have a crate, travel harness or partition between front and back seats, try this tip using a short leash with a loop on the end. Adjust the back seat’s middle seat belt as tight as it will go and then slip the leash through the seat belt and re-secure it. A leash short enough to limit the dog to sitting, lying down and turning around will likely prevent the dog from being thrown to the floor in the event of a sudden stop.
*If you use a loose leash in the back seat, allow enough slack so that the dog won't strangle if the driver brakes and the dog falls into the floor area. Fasten the leash to something inside the car, such as an arm rest.
*Keep the windows rolled up high enough so that the dog cannot squeeze through. Don't underestimate how skinny dogs can make themselves in order to escape through a window, even in a moving vehicle.