Who’s Driving?

Pet Passenger Safety Tips

Photo: Elizabeth D.

Recently, I have seen many people driving with a dog on their lap, hanging its head out of the driver’s window. Even though it is tempting to allow Fido to crawl in your lap while you are driving, not only is it unsafe for you and your dog, but it may also be against the law.

According to Pennsylvania’s seat belt law, all drivers, all front seat passengers, and anyone under 18 years of age is required to wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle. PA’s child seat belt laws have special provisions and guidelines for the proper use of safety and booster seats for children under eight.

Like small children, pets could be at risk of injury from airbags because most do not meet the average height and weight requirements for front seat passengers.

Car accident test simulations, done using a 12-pound canine crash test dummy, showed that at a speed of only 30 mph, an unrestrained dog will strike a barrier with 650 pounds of force on impact. On top of this, in the event of a car accident, unrestrained animals will most likely try to escape a vehicle if windows are broken and can then easily get lost or hit by other vehicles.

84% of the pet owners in a AAA survey stated that they have driven with their pets on a variety of non-essential car trips, yet only 16% used, or regularly use, any type of pet-restraint safety system.

According to Cherise Threewitt a Chicago-based writer and editor with 15 years of experience covering the automotive industry,

  • Pets riding in a driver’s lap can accidentally get between the driver’s feet and the pedals.
  • If there’s an accident or the driver has to slam on the brakes, the dog can be crushed by the steering wheel, or worse, go through the windshield, or become a deadly projectile and injure the driver or passengers.
  • If the airbags deploy, the force (approximately 200 mph) can seriously harm or kill a pet.
  • In the aftermath of an accident, some dogs may become panicked and try to attack first responders; unrestrained pets can also escape, get hit by a car, or bolt and become lost.

AAA recommends that pet owners restrain their pet inside the vehicle not only to avoid distraction, but also to protect the animal and other passengers in the event of a crash. So, each and every time you travel with your dog, just as you put on your seat belt when you hit the road, be sure you do the same for your canine companion.

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