Animal Talk

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A bill was recently introduced to the Connecticut General Assembly that would outlaw drivers from holding pets on their laps. This is another form of distracted driving such as texting and is dangerous to the driver, other motorists, and the pets themselves. I’m not sure we need a law for this behavior but I am definitely in favor of harnessing dogs to keep everybody safer.

As veterinarians, we have seen many trauma cases where dogs jumped from moving vehicles and most of these cases involved lacerations, head trauma and fractures. It is also common to treat injured canines that were passengers inside motor vehicles involved in accidents. Safety restraints that function like seat belts can save lives and are readily available for dogs of all sizes. Currently only 16 percent of drivers use these seat-belt safety-harnesses for their pets. Here are some facts that may change your mind about protecting your pet while driving.

A recent AAA study of dog owners revealed that:

  • 65 percent of drivers are distracted at least once whenever they drive with their dogs;
  • 20 percent allow their dogs to sit on their lap while driving;
  • 23 percent use their arms to protect their dogs in the front seat when braking; and
  • 19 percent took one hand off the wheel to prevent their dogs from climbing into the front seat.

The safest approach is to use safety restraints and never allow your dog in the front seat. Airbags are not designed to keep pets safe, and can be deadly to a pet even if it is restrained with a safety belt. Also it is extremely dangerous for you and your pet to have an airbag deploy with a pet sitting in your lap. Unrestrained pets become projectiles during an accident. It is calculated that an 80-pound dog in a 30-mph crash will exert a ton of force against the windshield or other passengers. We all know how dangerous it is to be thrown from a car during an accident. Your pet will experience more severe trauma if unrestrained during a car crash.

Cats must not be allowed to wander around the car during transit. They are notorious for sneaking under the seats and getting near the foot pedals. Cats should be contained in proper cat carriers. It seems they easily wiggle their way out of improvised boxes as soon as the car is moving. Not only is this dangerous, but you may lose your kitty when you open the door. The ideal approach is to carefully position the carriers safely in the back seat and secure it with a safety belt, or better yet, use pet restraints. A 10-pound cat can become a missile too and exert 300 pounds of force during a 30-mph crash.

There are enough distractions in cars with cell phones, navigation systems and traffic. Please consider safely harnessing your pets and eliminating this worry. A pet vehicle safety law may be coming soon so you may want to research which harness system works best for your pet family.