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In a nation where 78 million dogs reside in more than 46 million households, it’s no surprise Americans love their canine pets. But when it comes to packing Fido into the family car, a new survey finds that drivers admit to some pretty doggone dangerous habits behind the wheel.
Who can blame dog owners for wanting to carry their beloved pets around on family road trips, in-town for quick errands, or just to go to the doggie park for a run? The problem is that dogs in the car often means driver distractions – and increased danger for every passenger in the vehicle.
AAA and Kurgo, a leading pet travel products manufacturer, teamed up to ask dog owners how often they travel with their dog and also looked at drivers’ habits behind the wheel. Nearly six in 10 (56 percent) dog owners responding to the survey say they’ve traveled with their dog at least one time a month during the past year. Eighteen percent of those responding to the survey say they drive with a dog in the vehicle also have children under age 13 who ride with them and seven in 10 of these drivers have driven with a child and unrestrained dog in the car at the same time.
If this isn’t enough to cause concern, here are some other distracting behaviors drivers with a dog in the car engage in:
Petting, holding, touching the dog
By far the most common activity dog owners admit to doing while behind the wheel is petting their animal. Some 52 percent say they’ve done this. Almost one-quarter (23 percent) hold their dog in place with their hands or arms when applying the brakes. Nineteen percent use hands or arms to keep Fido from climbing in the front seat, thus taking at least one hand from the wheel in doing so.
Other distracting behaviors
There’s more that dog owners admitted to on the survey, however, including reaching into the back seat to play or otherwise interact with their pet (18 percent), holding their dog or allowing it to sit in their lap (17 percent), giving the animal treats or food (13 percent), even taking a photo of their dog while driving (3 percent). All of these distracting behaviors are doggone dangerous because they not only distract the driver but they also increase the risk for a crash. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety advises that just two seconds’ worth of looking away from the road doubles driver risk of being in a crash.
Most drivers fail to use a pet restraint system
It isn’t that drivers are unaware of the dangers of having an unrestrained pet in the car. Asked the question, 83 percent say they know the practice is dangerous. But only 16 percent currently use a pet restraint system. Among dog owners who have heard of unrestrained dogs sustaining injuries or causing injuries to other passengers in the event of a crash, use of restraints is three times greater (32 percent) compared to those who weren’t aware of such a situation and still used a pet restraint (9 percent).
Why don’t dog-owning drivers use pet restraints? The survey found that two in five (42 percent) said they didn’t because their dog is calm and they don’t believe the dog needs a restraint. AAA warns that a calm dog will be thrown with the same force as an active dog should the driver have to stop suddenly or gets in a crash. This is dangerous not only for the dog but for everyone in the vehicle.
Some of the respondents’ other reasons for not using a pet restraint system include that they never considered it (39 percent); only take the dog on short trips (29 percent), and they just want their canine to be able to put its head out the window (12 percent).