Concern Over Dogs Distracting Drivers in the Car Raises an Important Question

Does your pooch love to go on car rides with the windows down, tongue wagging in the breeze? Our new puppy loves sticking her head out the window and taking in all the scents as we go to pick up the kids from school or run errands. But does paying attention to all of her cuteness and enjoyment lead to distracted driving?

April 1st kicks off Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and with spring finally here and warmer temperatures and nicer weather, more drivers will be taking their dogs along for the ride. To raise awareness about distracted driving and the laws surrounding this issue, Erie Insurance commissioned a survey to learn how Americans feel about distracted driving laws applying to their furry passengers. The results were eye opening.

Don't forget to buckle up your dog for safety in the car, too!<p>Provided by Erie Insurance</p>
Don't forget to buckle up your dog for safety in the car, too!

Provided by Erie Insurance

The online survey that documented that a whopping number of dog owners with a driver’s license (92%) take their dogs in the car with them. And if all of us are paying attention to our pups instead of the road, it could lead to accidents with serious consequences. The advocacy group Bark Buckle UP® reported that an unrestrained 60-pound dog can turn into a 2700-pound projectile in a 35-mph car crash when you apply mechanical force calculations.

Some states are considering passing laws that could soon make having a loose dog in your car illegal. So far Rhode Island, Hawaii, and New Jersey have already passed legislation requiring that dogs be restrained while in vehicles. Other states are starting to cite drivers with unrestrained dogs in the car whose behavior is considered disruptive.

Not surprisingly, The Erie Insurance survey showed that American dog owners with a driver’s license are split about 50/50 as to whether there should be laws mandating that dogs be restrained while in a moving vehicle.

Related: Dog Dad Builds Thoughtful Center Console For Fur Baby to Be Comfortable on Car Rides

Are Our Dogs Real Distractions in the Car?

Volvo conducted a study in 2019 that showed that drivers with unrestrained dogs in the car were distracted more than 10% of the total driving time. The study was conducted over 30 hours, and drivers with unrestrained dogs took their eyes off the road for about three and a half hours. On the other side of the coin, owners with restrained dogs were only distracted for 1.39 hours, less than half the time. That’s a huge difference and a shocking amount of time to be distracted.

Are we all distracted because we’re concerned for our dogs’ safety or because we are trying to keep them “entertained”? In the Erie Insurance survey, 83% of dog owners with a driver’s license who drive with their dog in the car admitted to “entertaining” their dogs on a long road trip. 45% of those surveyed admitted to letting their canine friends participate in the pastime of hanging their heads out the window. I only do this when there’s another person in the car with me because I worry about our puppy jumping out the window.

Tips To Keep Your Dogs Safe in the Car

Erie Insurance conducted this research to explain the potential safety risks of having a dog loose in the car. Most people said that their dogs (69%) sit in the back seat of the car, 41% of dog owners put their dogs in the front passenger seat, and a shocking number of people – 13%- drive with their dogs on their laps…even though there's a huge risk of them being injured by airbags, flying debris, or going through the windshield in the front seat.

Shocking numbers prove that dogs are a distraction.<p>Provided by Erie Insurance</p>
Shocking numbers prove that dogs are a distraction.

Provided by Erie Insurance

In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month Erie Insurance is providing tips for a safer ride for both you and your pup.

They shared the following three ways that you can make sure your dog doesn’t distract you while they are in the car with you:

· Bring a passenger with you who is responsible for calming, controlling and restraining your dog.

· Use any number of approved, specially designed dog restraint solutions, including harnesses, dog crates/carriers, dog car seats or hammocks. Or, if necessary for a long road trip, you might also request medication from your vet to help sedate your dog.

· Train your dog to become a less distracting, better-behaved passenger.

They also shared the following information that Paul Owens, “The Original Dog Whisperer” and a renowned dog trainer for 50 years, offers to help calm dogs before traveling in the car. “Dogs typically express their stress in one (or more) or four ways: bark or whimper; pace or jump; pee, poop or vomit; or chew.” To limit these distracting behaviors, Owens suggests the following:

· Get the energy out. Give your pup the chance to exercise and explore new smells on a walk to burn off some car excitement.

· Minimize risk. If you know your dog is likely to mess in the car, don’t feed it for several hours prior to a ride.

· Boost confidence with gradual conditioning/desensitizing. Don’t think you can just throw a harness around your dog. Rather, you will need to gradually get them used to it. Start by placing it near them and slowly get closer until they’re willing to step through it on their own.

· Reward, reward and reward! Be sure to reward your dog with a favorite treat after each successful excursion or positive action. Always keep training sessions short—30 seconds to a few minutes—before giving a reward. And do so with a smile, as dogs can pick up positive vibes from you.

· Consider purchasing a ThunderShirt. These specially designed shirts apply constant and even pressure to help minimize anxiety.

· Be patient. Remember that dogs typically don’t reach emotional maturity until 1-3 years. Depending on your dog’s maturity level and prior experience with car rides, it could take 2-12 months to turn around a negative behavior and/or emotional response.

· Bring in a professional. If you’re still not getting results on your own, it’s time to call in a force-free, reward-based professional dog trainer. The right trainer with the right approach can turn your furry friend into a road trip champ.

Owens believes all dogs should be properly restrained in the car, not because it’s the law but because dog owners should want to keep their dogs - and themselves - safe. Forbes shared their picks for the best seat belts and safety harnesses for dogs in the car, and you can find their overall pick here.

NOTE: All information was provided by Erie Insurance.

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