“An unrestrained pet can be hugely distracting,” experts say. | AP
Updated: January 22, 2011 8:44PM
Man’s best friend is not a driver’s best friend.
While lawmakers have been banning drivers from texting or using cell phones, many motorists are riding around with another dangerous risk — their dogs.
Experts say an unrestrained dog — whether curled up on a lap, hanging out the window or resting its paws on the steering wheel — can be deadly. Tens of thousands of car accidents are believed caused every year by unrestrained pets, though no one has solid numbers.
“An unrestrained pet can be hugely distracting — if he is seeking your attention, putting his face right in front of yours, starts chewing up the upholstery or is vomiting because he is carsick,” said Katherine Miller, director of applied science and research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The issue is drawing attention in some statehouses. Hawaii is the only state that specifically forbids drivers from operating a vehicle with a pet on their lap. But Oregon lawmakers are considering fining drivers who hold their pets behind the wheel. And some cities are taking action, too.
In 2009, 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Cell phones were the top distraction — the cause of 18 percent of the fatalities and 5 percent of the injury crashes. The agency does not track accidents caused by pets, but said they are counted among other distractions such as disruptive passengers, misbehaving children or drivers who attempt to put on makeup or read.
In a crash, an unrestrained pet can turn into a deadly projectile or get crushed by a driver or passenger who is thrown forward. AP