Dog Seatbelts: Should There Be A Law?
According to a 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo, a manufacturer of pet travel products, 56% of pet owners have driven with their dog in the car at least once a month in the past year. And certainly one of the pleasures of having a well-behaved dog is the ability to take her along for outings. The cliche of the dog hanging his head out a car window, ears flapping in the wind, is one that can bring a smile to your face.
But many dog owners do not consider that driving with the dog unrestrained in a vehicle carries inherent risks for the dog and for the driver and passengers. And to make matters worse, the survey found that large numbers of dog owners exacerbate the risk by engaging in dangerous conduct when they have their dogs in the car.
Unrestrained Dogs and Risky Behavior by Owners
According to the survey:
- 52% of respondents admit they pet their dogs while driving
- 23% have used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying brakes
- 19% have used their hands or arms to prevent their dog from climbing into the front seat
- 18% allow their dog to sit in their lap
- 13% give treats to their dog while driving
The AAA/Kurgo survey also revealed that 83% of respondents acknowledge that an unrestrained dog in a car can be dangerous, but only 16% use a pet restraint.
How Dangerous Is It?
Just what are the dangers involved in having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle? According to Christine Selter, founder of the Bark Buckle UP pet safety movement:
- A 60-pound pet becomes a 2,700 pound projectile, at just 35 mph
- Pet travel has increased 300% since 2005
- Unrestrained pets delay emergency workers’ access to human occupants
- Pets escaping post-accident pose many dangers, including catching the loose pet
- Injured pets may bite first responders and rescue workers
- Pets may escape through a window or open door and cause a second accident
- Driver distraction is common when unrestrained pets are rambunctious
The State of the Law on Pet Vehicle Restraint
While several states have laws that require pets to be restrained while traveling in open areas of the vehicle, such as the bed of a pick-up truck, no U.S. state has successfully enacted legislation mandating that pets be restrained inside the passenger area of a moving vehicle.
In 2008, California and Virginia considered legislation that would have punished drivers for having pets on their laps; however, neither measure became law.
According to a November 2010 report by the Iowa Policy Research Organization (IPRO), only Hawaii explicitly forbids drivers from holding a pet in their lap. In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, distracted driving laws may be used to charge drivers with pets on their laps.
Should There Be Dog Seatbelt Laws?
The dangers involved in having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle are clear. It is a safety hazard for the driver, the passengers, the pet, and potentially for first reponders such as law enforcement and EMTs. According to the IPRO report, some objections to animal vehicle restraint legislation include:
- The potential costs involved in enforcement
- The difficulties involved in enforcement
- A perception of over-regulation of private activities by the government
- The costs to individuals of purchasing restraints for their pets
On the other hand, the report points out that charging fines for drivers who fail to use vehicle pet restraints could generate revenue.
Perhaps most importantly, reducing pet related accidents could save a state money, “especially given the very high costs of traffic accidents in terms of monetary damage to vehicles, health care costs and human lives.”
Not to mention the lives of our beloved pets.