Did you know that driving with a dog on your lap is just as dangerous as driving while texting? A survey from AAA (American Automobile Association) found that one in five respondents admitted to driving with a dog on their laps sometimes.
One of those drivers is Amanda Parsons. “I have a small mini dachshund who sits on my lap in the car all the time,” she says. “The reason for this is simple, her legs are too short for her little head to look out the window. She is a very good dog, not excitable, and sweet as can be. She merely sits on my lap and uses the extra inches of height I provide her to see outside. I don’t find this to be a distraction at all. I actually feel safer with her in my lap because if I were to get into an accident I would know that I could protect her.”
Sarah Merritt also drives with her small dog on her lap. “I have an 11-pound Maltese who insists on sitting on my lap when we drive in the car,” she explains. “Although he’s small, when he suddenly wants a belly rub in four-lane traffic or decides to play musical chairs, it is very distracting.”
It's tempting, I know. But just like talking on a hand-held cell phone or texting, driving with an unrestrained dog is a form of distracted driving. In a crash, an unrestrained pet can turn into a deadly projectile or get crushed by a driver or passenger who is thrown forward by the collision.
“Restraining your pet when driving can not only help protect your pet, but you and other passengers in your vehicle as well,” says Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National, Traffic Safety Programs manager. “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation this can cause your pet and anyone in the vehicle or in its path.”
At least eight states have laws requiring owners to kennel or tether dogs or other animals. States with restraint laws include Connecticut, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island. If caught with an unrestrained dog, fines range between $50 and $200.
Drivers should focus on the road, and pets should be secured in a carrier or harness. Carriers should be secured in the back of the car. A dog in a harness should be in the middle of the back seat. Carriers are preferred; not all harnesses are created equal.
Paws to Click, manufacturers of safety harnesses for dogs, found that more than 30,000 accidents a year are caused by distracted drivers, including drivers with a pet on a lap or a free-roaming pet in a car.
“Paws to Click was created to help educate pet owners about safe driving,” says Dana Williams, a spokesperson for the company. “We encourage people to use a harness or carrier that can be belted in for their pets while running errands, going on vacation, or just [taking] leisure drives. People do not realize what can happen during an accident or a sudden stop when a pet is not contained. They become almost like a projectile, causing injury to themselves and to others in the car. A scared or hurt pet can also impede the rescue workers from helping others in the car. Pets become aggressive and protective when they are scared or hurt. They can also run from the scene and become lost.”
Michele C. Hollow writes about pets, wildlife, interior design, and other lifestyle topics. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, NY Daily News, Newsday, Family Circle, DIYNetwork, and other print and online publications. She is the author of The Everything Guide to Working with Animals (Adams Media), and she writes the blog Pet News and Views.