By Robert Piehl
Eight states, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island require owners to kennel or tether animals when traveling in a motor vehicle. They recognize the severe danger of sudden stops and potential collisions pose to both drivers and pets. An unrestrained dog can land you with a ticket between $50 and $200. In addition, many states have distracted driving laws that could be used to ticket a driver with a dog on their lap. Given the current push against texting while driving, it doesn’t appear to be a stretch that the distraction of unrestrained pets will follow close behind.
Animal lovers would almost always rather take their pet with them to run errands or on a road trip than leave them at home or at a pet motel. A recent survey indicated that 25% of people traveling for more than two nights take their pets with them. As multiple dog owners, we take some or all of our pack whenever practical and even when impractical. In researching this article, I achieved a new realization of the dangers involved to the distracted driver, the unrestrained pet(s) and to other drivers on the road with me. In a survey of pet owners by AAA and Kurgo, a pet restraint manufacturer, 31% admitted to being distracted by their dogs while driving and 59% have admitted to engaging with their pet in at least one distracting behavior while driving. Additionally, the survey indicated that 80% of pet owners drive with their pets but only 17% use any form of pet restraint.
Many of our dogs have their quirks as to what can set them off into a state of high excitement (driver distraction). It may be other dogs, horses, runners, bike riders, etc. If you have a dog that goes bonkers once in a while and you’re doing 40 mph in heavy traffic, it could spell disaster for you, your dog and/or a cyclist, jogger or small child. In the event of an accident, a restrained pet won’t run off or into traffic. A restrained pet won’t try to prevent rescue personnel from reaching his injured master.
The danger to humans in an accident with a pet in the vehicle is very real. Another study by AAA indicated that an unrestrained 10# dog in a 50 mph crash exerts a force of 500 pounds, while an unrestrained dog of 80# in a crash of only 30 mph exerts a force of 2,400 pounds. With these forces, a dog could easily be propelled through the windshield. Our dogs range from an 11# Shih Tzu to our collies Rob Roy and Junie B that weigh in the upper 70# range. Robbie and Junie go with us on virtually all of our trips and errands in the back of our Escape. This provided me with a lot of food for thought. Another scary scenario for those who have dogs in the front seat is that in the event of an air bag actuation, the dog will likely die or be severely injured as well as multiply injuries to the owner if they are being held at the time.
If you are now convinced or at least considering restraint for your dog, what kinds are available and which ones are preferable? The types available break down into variations of seat belt adaptions, barriers and crates/cages:
Dog Seat Belts: These come in a wide range of sizes and prices. An important consideration is to accept the fact that the extra money and hassle of using a harness on your pet with a seat belt restraint is worth it. The lesser cost and more convenience of using a collar attachment will pale if your dog ends up with a severely injured neck or dead. The effect of a collar restraint in an accident is similar to being hung. Harnesses come in various quality levels. I suggest that you look at the amount of padding in the harness that will provide extra protection as well as comfort for your pet and, above all, does it appear to have the strength necessary to protect your dog in the event of a serious accident. Lastly, shop for ease of use. The easier it is to use, the more likely you are to use it … especially for the short trips…where statistically most accidents happen.
Crates and Cages: These options work well in SUV’s and vans and have the added benefit of providing a sleeping spot for overnight stays.
It is important to remember that unless the crate or cage is secured within the vehicle, it could become an even larger missle hurtling toward the passengers and windshield.
Barriers: Barriers come in various forms and some are adjustable. Barriers may be metal mesh screening on a sturdy frame, bent tubing frames or fabric netting. The netting style is suspect in its ability to adequately prevent a dog from becoming a missile in an accident. The adjustable tubing styles should be carefully researched before buying for their annoyance factor. Barriers allow your pet to move around on long trips and have room for a no-spill water dish. I have a barrier ($70) that adjusts to almost any size van or SUV but the rattling drove me crazy so it sits down in my work shop. Before you buy a barrier, carefully research the design as it applies to your vehicle. I suggest you search for a barrier made specifically for your vehicle that is either non-adjustable or that you are certain will provide a quiet ride.
The proven dangers of distracted driving make the case for restraining your dogs when you drive. Consider the safety of your loved ones (human and canine), yourself and strangers in your path and do the right thing. Writing this article has admittedly had an impact on me as I think about our trips where we take the “whole fam damily” of myself, my wife, two rough collies, a Border Collie, a rat terrier mix and a Shih Tzu in in our Escape to take a ride. I now realize how dangerous our zoo on wheels truly has been.