The Danger of Driving with Dogs

April 30th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

Some states are seeking bans on loose pets in vehicles.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

You’re certainly aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, and the fatal accidents involving drivers distracted by texting while driving (now illegal in many states). But lawmakers are now addressing a new danger while driving: lap dogs.

Driving with an unrestrained pet in the car is dangerous enough that at least two states – Rhode Island and Tennessee – are considering bans on letting your pet roam free in your moving car. The Providence Journal reported that Rep. Peter G. Palumbo submitted a bill in Rhode Island after a constituent told him she’d seen a dog in the front seat of another driver’s car at a busy intersection. The bill proposes an $85 fine for first offenses, $100 for a second offense and $125 for subsequent offenses. Banning unrestrained pets in cars has been tried before, The Los Angeles Times has noted. California’s legislature outlawed dogs in laps in 2008, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.

According to the results of a 2010 survey by AAA, 21 percent of respondents admitted letting a dog sit in their laps while they drove; 7 percent said they'd given a dog food or water while driving, and 5 percent had played with their dog in a moving car. Thirty-one percent admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving, no matter where the dog was while they were on the road. Perhaps the most extreme case of pet distraction: a South Dakota woman who was stopped in 2010 with 15 cats running loose in her car (she didn’t see the patrol car behind her because of the cats in her rear window). 

In case you needed quantification on how dangerous a flying animal in a car crash can be, AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher told Motor Trend that an unrestrained 10-pound dog traveling at 50 miles per hour flies forward with 500 pounds of pressure in a crash; an 80 pound dog at only 30 mph packs on 2400 pounds. “Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle in its path,” she said.

But even the thought of Fido hurtling through the air in an accident isn’t enough to dissuade some vehicular-lap-dog enthusiasts. What’s your take? Have you driven with a pet loose in your car? How about in your lap? Do you think it’s as distracting as texting while driving? Weigh in.