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driving with pets

While pets are by far the most lovable driving distraction, they can still present a challenge on par with smartphones and snacks.

We'll explain why driving with unrestrained pets can be so distracting and offer tips on how to safely travel with your pet.

The problem of unrestrained pets

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn't currently track car accidents caused by pets in the car (instead they're lumped in with other distractions), it's easy to see how a free-roaming Fido could take your eyes off the road.

As the NHTSA tells us, it only takes 2 seconds of unfocused driving to increase the risk of an accident.

How distracting can driving with a pet be?

A 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo produced some startling statistics on dogs, driver distraction, and the dangers involved:

  • 65 percent of dog-owning drivers admit petting or holding down their dog, reaching back, taking photos, and other distracting behaviors
  • A 10-pound dog that's not restrained can generate 500 pounds of force in a 50-mph crash
  • An 80-pound dog can generate 2,400 pounds of force in a 30 mph crash

All of this is to say that driving with pets can be dangerous for both you and your number-one pal. Not only are pets natural-born distracters, they can be seriously injured — and can seriously injure you — if not properly restrained. And if you're in an accident after your pet distracts you, you could be held liable for the damages.

See more pet-driving stats from the AAA study on pets in the car (PDF).

State laws on unrestrained pets

Because driving around with a rambunctious pup or inquisitive cat can be risky, some states require owners to kennel or tether animals while driving. In other states, like Connecticut, general distracted driving laws can be applied to animal-related distractions. Penalties for violations vary by state.

How to travel with an undistracting pet

Now that you know the dangers of driving with an unsecured pet (and the legal pitfalls), it's time to show you how to make your trips with animals go smoothly.

Keep your pets from becoming projectiles

Pet restraints can seem so … restraining. But they are the easiest and best method for limiting distraction and protecting you and your pals if an accident occurs. You can choose from 2 common options:

seat belt
  • Seat belts: not just for us
    Pet seat belts do exist. You'll need to buy one separately (regular human belts can be dangerous), but they're often easy to use and work in tandem with your normal seat belt. Check to make sure the pet belt is the right size for your animal. One that's too big or too small is counterproductive and can cause unnecessary injuries.
  • Pet carriers
    Look for a sturdy carrier with ample ventilation and plenty of room for your pet to turn around and stretch out. Also, make sure you secure the carrier so that it stays safely in place if you suddenly brake or get into an accident.

And, whatever you do, don't let Fido or Peaches ride shotgun, even if they're safely restrained. In an accident, air bags can injure pets, so the safest place for your pal, like a human infant, is the backseat.

Feed your pet a few hours before a long road trip

This will help prevent your animal from getting carsick, which can be distracting for obvious "oh-no" reasons. About 3 to 4 hours before you leave should do the trick.

Keep all pet parts inside the vehicle

Though it's hilarious and endearing, letting your pet stick its head out of the window can be harmful. Rogue rocks, debris, and other flying particles can injure your pet's eyes and ears, and if you should stop suddenly or get into an accident, your pet will be at even greater risk of injury.

Don't leave your pet in a parked car

Parked cars get hot. In the summer, a car's interior can reach 150° Fahrenheit in just an hour. (It's the greenhouse effect at work.)

Dogs and cats can't sweat the way humans do to cool down, and they lose water by panting. If you need to leave your pet in the car, roll some windows down and try to park in the shade to help them avoid heat stroke. If they could speak, they'd thank you.

Driving safely with pets

Driving with your beloved pet in the car doesn't need to be dangerous. Take some time to make sure you can safely restrain your pet to maximize safety for you and your lovable friend.

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