Distractions from Driving with Pets


We typically associate driving distractions with the usual culprits - phone usage, eating in the car, looking for a dropped object on the floor. However, few of us fully realise the driving distractions leaving a pet unsecured can cause.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness month, and we will be covering various forms of distractions that can have a profoundly dangerous effect on your driving ability.

Image by FELIX KAESTLE / AFP - Getty Images file

Image by FELIX KAESTLE / AFP - Getty Images file

Most pet owners travel with their pets. A 2011 Kurgo/AAA survey discovered that 29% of drivers admit to getting actively distracted by their dog while driving, while 65% of them admit to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog.

Distracting activities that drivers tend to engage in with their pets include:

  • Petting their dog (52%)

  • Using hands or arms to restrict dog’s movement or hold dog in place when putting on brakes (23%)

  • Using hands/arms to keep dog from climbing from the backseat to the front seat (19%)

  • Reaching into backseat to interact with dog (18%)

  • Allowing dog to sit in lap or holding dog while driving (17%)

  • Giving food or treats to dog (13%)

  • Playing with dog (4%)

  • Taking a photo of dog (3%)

A survey from Nationwide Mutual Insurance found that 8% of drivers even admit to driving with a pet on their lap.

Using Restraints

As many as 84% of pet owners surveyed bring their dogs on car trips but allow them to ride unrestrained. The reasons for not using a pet travel restraint include:

  • My dog is calm and do not think he/she needs a restraint (42%)

  • Never considered it (39%)

  • Just take dog on short trips (29%)

  • Want dog to be able to put head out window (12%)

  • Too complicated/too much trouble (7%)

  • Want dog to have fun in the car (3%)

  • Want to be able to hold dog (3%)

The distractions that come with an unrestrained pet can easily be anticipated. An anxious dog may cry, fidget or attempt to seek reassurance from its owner. A suddenly startled dog or cat may jump or move unpredictably. A curious dog might try to get a better view of an object of interest. A small dog or cat might try to burrow under your seat, or even your lap!

Image by EzyDog via Chewy

Image by EzyDog via Chewy

The concerns that arise from having unrestrained pets in the car aren’t limited to driver distractions. In the case of an accident, a catapulting dog or cat is a significant hazard to everyone in the vehicle.

An unrestrained 4.5kg pet in a crash at 80 km/h will exert roughly 230 kilograms of force, while an unrestrained 36kg pet in a crash at only 50 km/h will carry the force of a 1090-kilogram projectile. (Source)

Unrestrained pets can also impede rescue workers in more severe accidents, and they also are more likely to be injured or flung out from a vehicle in minor accidents.

Safety For All

Keeping your dog and human passengers safe and secure in your vehicle is easily solved by using a safety restraint. For cats, it’s best to keep them in a pet carrier that is also strapped in with a seat belt as cats are typically uncomfortable riding in a car or being restrained.

Taking deliberate efforts to ensure proper safety procedures may turn out to be life-saving - not just for your pet, but for your own too.