Pets are family. They go where we go. So naturally, they ride along in the car with us. But much like children, we cannot always predict what our furry friends may do. A driver’s attention may be diverted away from the road while attending to the needs of an unrestrained pet. Any time a driver is distracted from driving, the risk of an accident increases. A car accident can result in serious consequences for both people and animals. Properly securing a pet inside a vehicle is the best way to ensure the safety of the pet, the human occupants, and all other persons on the road.
How Many Drivers Take Their Pets in the Car?
According to a recent survey conducted by Volvo Cars USA, 97% of people who keep pets take their dogs with them in the car. However, very few of the pets are restrained while riding in a vehicle. The Volvo study found the following with regard to cars carrying dogs:
- 48% had no safety or restraint gear for pets
- 41% let dogs ride in the front seat
- 23% buckled dogs with human seat belts
- 5% had some type of built-in pet safety system
Unrestrained Pets in Vehicles are Distracting to Drivers
Another study done by Volvo and The Harris Poll compared a driver’s distraction level while driving with a dog not restrained by a harness, crate, or other pet restraint vs. driving with a restrained dog.
Data were collected on 15 drivers and dogs during 30 hours of driving. The results clearly demonstrated drivers were more distracted when pets were allowed to roam freely about the vehicle. The study disclosed:
- Unrestrained dogs caused more than twice as many unsafe driving behaviors as restrained dogs.
- Drivers were distracted for more than twice as long when dogs were unrestrained.
- Both driver and dog showed more signs of stress when the dog was not restrained.
Ways Unrestrained Pets Can Distract Drivers
When a pet travels unrestrained in a vehicle, the driver may not be certain where the pet is exactly and if everything is okay. The uncertainty can cause a driver’s focus to shift away from business on the road in an attempt to ascertain the pet’s condition. If a pet gets excited or spooked, things may get crazy inside the vehicle forcing a driver’s attention toward the pet and off of driving.
Drivers with unrestrained pets have admitted to the following types of distractions while driving:
- Petting the dog
- Letting the dog ride in their lap
- Playing with dog
- Giving the dog treats
- Taking pictures of the dog
Distracted Driving and Motor Vehicle Accidents
Distracted driving is credited as the cause of a significant number of traffic crashes every year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that distraction contributed to 14% of the nation’s injury accidents and 8% of the fatality accidents in 2020. The driver was distracted in 59% of the fatality accidents attributed to Distraction-Affected (DA) driving.
International drivers education company Zutobi compiled data from US government websites and prepared a list of distracted driving fatality accidents for each state in 2020. Louisiana had the third-highest percentage of fatal crashes attributed to distracted driving, behind New Mexico and Kansas.
State Laws Regarding Pet Restraints While Driving
As awareness increases about the dangers of driving with an unrestrained pet, a few states have responded by enacting legislation requiring some type of pet restraint. Most states that have pet restraint laws only require pets to be restrained if they are riding in the bed of a truck and not in the cab of a vehicle. Only Rhode Island currently requires dogs riding in cars to be enclosed in a crate or pet harness and not be under the physical control of the driver.
Louisiana currently has no laws requiring pets to be secured while riding in or on vehicles though there has been a past attempt to pass some restraint legislation. Back in 2014, HB 1091 was introduced and would have required dogs riding in pickup beds to be humanely secured in a manner that would prevent a dog from falling, jumping, or being thrown from the truck. The bill made it through both the house and senate and was vetoed by then-governor Bobby Jindal.
While most states do not have laws that specifically address restraining pets, many do recognize the potential for distraction and can ticket a driver who is deemed to have been distracted by the presence of a pet in the vehicle. Several states have tried to pass legislation making it illegal to drive with a dog in the driver’s lap, but so far, it is still legal in all states for dogs to ride in the laps of drivers.
Tips for Minimizing Distraction and Driving Safely with Your Furry Friend
A pet owner has a responsibility to keep a pet safe. Drivers have a responsibility to avoid distractions and prioritize safe driving. Whether or not the law requires it, restraining pets while they are in a vehicle has been shown to improve traffic safety.
Long-time animal safety advocate, American Humane, advises that pets should be properly restrained or crated using equipment specially made for pet restraint. Any time a pet is transported by vehicle, the organization cautions against the following practices:
- Do not let a pet ride in the front seat.
- Do not let a pet ride in the driver’s lap.
- Never transport unrestrained pets in a truck bed
- Do not let a pet stick its head out a window
Drivers may not fully appreciate the risk that is posed to their pet, themselves, and others when a pet is not properly restrained while riding in a vehicle. Driver distraction for even a moment or two takes precious time off the clock for reacting to sudden changes in traffic conditions. With pets properly secured, drivers can remain focused on driving, making accidents less likely to happen.
If you were involved in a car accident, call the firm today at 504-526-2222 or contact us online so that you can set up a consultation.