Distracted Driving: Man’s Best Friend can be the Driver’s Enemy

Cell phone use is the most common action associated with distracted driving today, and although cell phone laws have been a step in the right direction, approximately six thousand deaths and half a million injuries are caused by distracted drivers every year.

In the past, the use of cell phones and eating in the car have been the main focus of activities that cause the driver of a vehicle to become distracted, but researchers are now saying that the presence of pets in the car is equally dangerous.

Along for the Ride

Owning a dog seems to carry a contagious attitude for people; we view the animals as close friends, and many of us take our loyal companions wherever we go.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), anything diverting a driver’s attention for more than two seconds significantly increases the risk of an accident. In a study sponsored by AAA and Kurgo, researchers found that approximately 23 percent of pet owners admitted to actively restraining their dogs while driving.

Reaching out to restrain a pet likely equates to more than two seconds of distraction.

“That’s like putting groceries on your lap; you are not going to be able to handle the wheel safely,” says emergency response expert Ines de Pablo. “When that airbag deploys, the animal will be smashed between the airbag and driver, which won’t help the driver.”

Distracted Driving Hurts Everyone

Although the NHTSA does not record the number of vehicle accidents involving the presence of pets, there were reportedly 448,000 people injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2009. Also, 16 percent of all fatal crashes from 2009 involved some form of distracted driving.

What pet owners likely underestimate is the potential for injury or death to their four-legged friends in the event of an accident. AAA reports a 10-pound animal in a vehicle traveling 30 miles per hour exerts approximately 300 pounds of force in a vehicle collision.

“A 5-pound dog or 100-pound Great Dane that’s not buckled in will become a projectile,” dePablo, a former EMS technician, adds. “Now, on top of whiplash, you have something hitting you or flying through the windshield.”

Regulations for Pets in Vehicles Emerge

While some states are beginning to enact laws requiring drivers to properly secure pets while operating a vehicle, the focus of those laws is for the pet’s safety rather than the driver’s. Therefore, most of these laws only apply to exterior areas of the vehicle – such as a truck bed – and do not apply to the inside cabin.

Germany, on the other hand, has much more stringent laws regarding pets as passengers in their owners’ vehicles. The ADAC, the German-equivalent to AAA in the U.S., conducted a number of crash tests to determine the effectiveness of various equipment and found that restraining pets reduces the risk of injuries to passengers.

Subsequently, German law requires drivers to adequately restrain their pets while operating a vehicle. The ADAC recommends a crate or carrier for larger dogs and harnesses with sturdy attachments for smaller dogs.

It would only make sense that the United States is soon to follow Germany’s example in reducing pets’ impact on distracted driving. Do you think that pets are a viable concern in terms of drivers becoming more distracted on the roads? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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