FLORHAM PARK—According to the American Pet Products Association, 78 million dogs reside in more than 46 million U.S. households, and an increasing number of these furry companions accompany their families on road trips, day trips and even local errands. This can mean added distractions for the driver and added dangers for all passengers, including pets.
A recent survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo—a leading manufacturer or pet travel products—asked dog owners how often they drive with their dog and examined their behind-the-wheel habits. Survey results indicated that drivers not only love to bring Fido in the car, but often engage in risky behaviors when man’s best friend is along for the ride.
Nearly six in 10 (56 percent) respondents have driven with their dog at least once a month in the past year. Many participate in behaviors that take their attention away from the road, with the most common being petting their dog (52 percent). Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) have used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying the brakes, and 19 percent have used their hands or arms to keep their dog from climbing into the front seat—creating a situation where only one hand is on the steering wheel.
Drivers admitted to other distracting behaviors, like reaching into the back seat to interact with their dog (18 percent), allowing the dog to sit in their lap or holding the dog (17 percent), giving food or treats (13 percent), and taking photos of their dog while driving (3 percent). These behaviors can increase the risk of a crash. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash.
Eighty-three percent of respondents acknowledged that an unrestrained dog in a moving car can be dangerous, but only 16 percent currently use a pet restraint. Use of a restraint is three times greater among drivers who have heard of situations where unrestrained dogs were injured or caused injury to other passengers in a crash (32 percent), compared to respondents who were not away of such a situation but still use a restraint (9 percent). Using a pet restraint can aid in limiting distractions, and help protect pets and passengers.
“Drivers should use a pet restraint system for their dog every time the pet is in the vehicle,” said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs for the Florham Park-based AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “A restraint will not only limit distractions, but also protect the driver, the pet and other passengers in the event of a crash or sudden stop.”
More than two in five (42 percent) respondents stated they do not use a pet restraint because their dog is calm and doesn’t need a restraint. A calm dog will be thrown with the same amount of force as an active dog in the event of a crash or sudden stop—a danger for all passengers, as well as the pet.
“In a crash at 30 mph, an unrestrained 10-pound dog will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in its path,” continued Lewis.
Other reasons cited for not using a restraint included the driver never considering it (39 percent) or that they just take dog on short trips (29 percent). Twelve percent want their dog to be able to put its head out the window.
Eighteen percent of respondents who drive with a dog in the vehicle also have children under the age of 13 who ride with them. Seven in 10 of these motorists have driven with a child and an unrestrained dog in the vehicle at the same time.
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