Maryland Dog Lovers : Is Your Pooch a Backseat Driver?

Over the years, we’ve devoted several blog articles to the many causes of distracted driving. The main related offenses that can lead to serious and even fatal Maryland distracted driving accidents include talking on cell phones and texting, eating, applying makeup, adjusting the GPS, conversing with passengers (especially for teenagers), and handling children and pets. Yes, pets. It’s this last category we’ll take a look at today.

It’s hard not to smile at the sight of a dog hanging its head out the car window, tongue and ears flapping in the breeze, enjoying the ride with his or her humans. But as much as we Marylanders love to take our canine friends with us on a road trip, the presence of animals in the car actually poses a distracted driving risk. This can put the driver, passengers, and yes, our beloved dogs themselves, at risk of injury or worse.

In 2011, a AAA survey of people and their pet passengers revealed some results that should make all dog-loving drivers sit up and take notice.

The survey was conducted by AAA and pet supply maker Kurgo, a retailer of “active dog” products. It revealed something that might come as no surprise to anyone who’s struggled to keep a playful pooch in line while driving down the highway. Are you guilty of this practice?: The survey found that one in five respondents admitted to taking their hands off the wheel to keep their dog from climbing into the front seat. Other distracted-driving behaviors related to canine passengers included…

  • Reaching into the back seat to interact with their dog (18 percent)
  • Allowing their dog to sit in their lap or holding their dog (17 percent)
  • Giving food or treats (13 percent)
  • Taking a photo of their dog while driving (3 percent)

AAA reports, “These behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.” Their recommendation: Install a restraint system of some kind in the back to keep dogs and people safe. As we reported in a previous blog entry, unrestrained dogs in motor vehicles can become projectiles in even minor automobile crashes, with potentially catastrophic results for both pets and people.

PetMD and the ASPCA offer recommendations for safe pet road travel, including types of dog harnesses and barriers that can serve as protection for people and pets in the event of a car accident. (See links below.)

On a related note, some communities and states including Hawaii; Mantua, Ohio; Illinois; Connecticut; Massachusetts; and Maine ban the practice of driving with a dog in one’s lap, while New Jersey fines drivers with unrestrained dogs in the vehicle. So as you’re thinking about distracted driving and keeping everyone in your automobile safe—don’t forget about the four-footed passengers, too.

Sources:

Nearly one in five respondents to AAA/Kurgo survey admit to taking hands off the wheel to keep dogs from climbing in front seat
AAA Newsroom  July 19, 2011

New Distracted Driving Law Takes Aim at Those Who Drive with Pets in Their Laps
People.com  Dec. 20, 2018

10 Car Safety Items for Your Pet
PetMD.com

Travel Safety Tips
ASPCA