Dogs unrestrained in cars distract drivers, pose threat
By Larry Copeland, USA TODAY 8/18/2010
Dog lovers, beware: Taking man's best friend for a
ride could be risky.
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
In crashes, unrestrained dogs pose an unintended
threat to the driver and other passengers, says
Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager of traffic safety
programs at AAA.
She says an unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash
at 50 mph will exert 500 pounds of force on
whatever it strikes; an 80-pound dog in a crash at
just 30 mph will exert about 2,400 pounds, she
says. Unrestrained dogs also can prove distracting
by climbing onto the driver's lap, interfering with
the ability to steer or crawling onto the foot pedals.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals recommends that people use restraints
on dogs and cats to prevent harm to the animals,
the driver and other passengers, says Louise
Murray, a veterinarian and vice president of the
ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New
Pets not only shouldn't ride in the driver's lap, they
also shouldn't ride in the front passenger seat
because of the risk of injury from a deploying
airbag, Murray says. "The best way for people to
think about this is to compare the dog to having a
child in the car," she says.
Pet restraints include harnesses, hard- or soft-sided
travel crates and vehicle seats.
People are taking their dogs along for leisure rides,
on local errands and on other trips, according to
the online survey by AAA and Kurgo of 1,000 dog
owners who have driven with their dogs in the past
12 months. Other risks of riding with unrestrained
dogs: After a crash, the animal might run away or
prevent rescue personnel from reaching injured
Almost four in 10 (39%) households in the USA have
a dog, the American Pet Products Association says.
"Our dogs are traveling with us so much more this
day and age," Huebner-Davidson says. "They really
have become part of our family. We want to make
sure we're buckling up our dogs but also keeping
our focus on the road."