Dogs Driving Us to Distraction?

Dog We love our pets in the U.S. Many of us consider them family, and some of us bring them just about everywhere we can. But did you know that an unrestrained animal in your vehicle can be the cause of a distracted-driving collision?

Our distracted-driving habits are deadly: 10 percent of all fatal crashes and 18 percent of all injury-causing crashes involve some form of distraction, according to 2013 figures from the NHTSA. Distraction caused by cell phones and texting often top the list, but distraction can also be the result of eating, drinking, smoking, talking or arguing with passengers, adjusting audio or video devices, and checking maps or GPS.

Distraction is Not the Pet’s Fault

Anyone driving with a dog or cat roaming free inside their vehicle, or while holding the pet on their lap, can easily become distracted. Yes, it is legal to carry your unrestrained pet in your vehicle, but a crash that you cause by driving distracted is not legal. Although South Carolina does not have a specific law covering distracted driving, our state does require every driver to exercise a reasonable degree of care and to refrain from driving recklessly.

Remember, if your pet causes you to have an accident, it’s not their fault in the eyes of the law.

If you love your pet, consider that letting them roam free puts them in considerable danger. A pet in the front seat can be badly injured or killed should the airbag deploy in a collision. A loose pet can also be thrown through the windshield or out of the vehicle, killing it. Three states (Nevada, New Jersey, and Washington) have animal cruelty laws that prohibit improperly transporting an animal in a vehicle. Only Hawaii specifically bans pets on a driver’s lap or in the driver’s immediate area.

Most people do not restrain their pets, making the possibility of a pet-caused accident a real possibility. In a 2011 survey sponsored by Kurgo (a pet travel product manufacturer) and AAA, only 16 percent of dog owners used restraints to keep their pet safely in place. Over half (52 percent) said they petted their dog while driving.

Your pet is safest in the back seat, away from airbags and restrained by a harness designed to be used in a vehicle, or in a carrier that is held in place by the vehicle’s seat belt.

You or a Loved One Could Be Injured

An unrestrained pet could fly around the vehicle, striking and hurting you or a passenger. If you are traveling at 30 miles per hour, a 10-pound dog would hit you with 300 pounds of force. Imagine the damage that a large dog at highway speeds could do to your child.

Examples of tragic collisions involving loose pets include:

  • 2017, Maine: A 19-year old woman swerved out of her lane and ran into a school bus when she became distracted by her cat. The crash injured students, the bus driver, and her. It also killed her pet.
  • 2016, North Dakota: A Shih-Tzu who jumped into a 76-year-old woman’s lap, blocking her line of sight, caused her to drive into a pond.
  • 2012, Washington State: A driver was killed when they crashed into an SUV. Distraction from the dog found in their lap was suspected.

Distraction Can Be Negligence

Even though SC has no specific law banning unrestrained pets, don’t be one of the over 3,100 fatalities that occur annually due to distracted driving, and don’t put your beloved pet at risk. Above all, don’t engage in distracted driving for any reason. You could injure or kill others, creating grounds for a personal injury lawsuit based on your negligent behavior.