Dogs contribute to distracted driving

Over the last year traffic safety advocates have focused on educating the public on the dangers of distracted driving. We have all heard how using a handheld cell phone, texting, eating and even listening to music can contribute to a lack of concentration that leads to a car accident. Now dogs have made the list. Whether your dog is “chillin” out the window or making a mess in your backseat, unrestrained dogs have been identified as a cause of car accidents.

Though the exact number is unknown, unrestrained dogs are estimated to be the cause of tens of thousands of crashes every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 5,500 people died in 2009 as a result of car crashes that were caused by distracted driving and almost 450,000 people were injured. Cell phones were the number one distraction and represented the cause of 18 percent of traffic deaths and five percent of injuries in 2009. As of right now, the National Highway Traffic Association does not keep track of accidents caused by pets but crashes that are caused by pets are included in categories like disruptive passengers.

While pets can get injured in accidents if not restrained, pets can also injure others. The director of applied science and research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains that a pet that weighs 50 pounds can create 1,500 pounds of force in a collision that occurs at 35 miles per hour. Lawmakers in some states have taken notice of the danger. Hawaii has a law against pets sitting in the laps of drivers and Oregon is considering a similar law.

While some laws may be passed on the issue, the easiest way for drivers to reduce the risk of distraction and therefore car accidents is to restrain their pet. Pets can be put in a harness or carrier and secured in the middle of the back seat.

Source: The Associated Press, “Experts warn about the dangers of driving with unrestrained pets in the car,” Sue Manning, 1/26/11

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