It is a common sight to see dog owners driving with dogs in the front seat or even in their laps, happily looking out the window. Yet, while many such dog owners might never drive anywhere without making sure that they and their children were buckled up for safety, they fail to consider that having their beloved companion unrestrained puts both their dog, themselves and any other passengers at risk.
Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, manager of traffic-safety programs at AAA auto club says that unrestrained dogs pose an unintended threat to the driver and other passengers. An unrestrained 10-pound dog will exert 500 pounds of force on whatever it strikes in a crash at 50 mph. An 80-pound dog in a crash at just 30 mph will exert about 2,400 pounds. In addition, unrestrained dogs also can dangerously distract drivers by climbing onto the driver’s lap, interfering with the ability to steer or crawling onto the foot pedals.
A new survey by AAA found that nearly 60% of dog owners have drive while distracted by their pets as passengers. The survey also found that only 17% of such dog owners ever use animal restraints such as harnesses and pet vehicle seats, which can prevent pets from being a distraction and protect them and other occupants in a crash.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends that people use restraints on dogs and cats to prevent harm to them, the driver and other passengers, says Louise Murray, a veterinarian and vice president of ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York.
Pets not only shouldn’t ride in the driver’s lap, they also shouldn’t ride in the front passenger seat because of the risk of injury from a deploying airbag, Murray said. “The best way for people to think about this is to compare the dog to having a child in the car,” she says.
Some other safety tips for driving with dogs:
*Crates or sturdy pet carriers are ideal for pets in cars. Pets often need a nice quiet place to rest and be alone. Secure the crate so it cannot fly forward or flip in the event of a sudden stop.
*If your car does not allow room for a crate, obtain a dog seat belt, which doubles as a harness. Such seat belts are available from many pet supply stores and web merchants.
*Or install a pet barrier to keep dogs in the back seat.
*If you don’t have a crate, travel harness or partition between front and back seats, try this tip using a short leash with a loop on the end. Adjust the back seat’s middle seat belt as tight as it will go and then slip the leash through the seat belt and re-secure it. A leash short enough to limit the dog to sitting, lying down and turning around will likely prevent the dog from being thrown to the floor in the event of a sudden stop.
*If you use a loose leash in the back seat, allow enough slack so that the dog won’t strangle if the driver brakes and the dog falls into the floor area. Fasten the leash to something inside the car, such as an arm rest.
*Keep the windows rolled up high enough so that the dog cannot squeeze through. Don’t underestimate how skinny dogs can make themselves in order to escape through a window, even in a moving vehicle.