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Restraining your dog while driving

By Charlotte Reed
Via Gadzoo / April 18, 2012
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After a trip to the bagel bakery on Saturday morning, the Feldmans understood how dangerous it was to have their Bernese Mountain Dog unrestrained in the back seat of their SUV.

While driving to the store, a driver cut off Ty, causing him to stop short. Although Ty and his wife were belted in, their 90-lb. Bernese, Sally, was not secured in the back seat and she came crashing into the front seat, hitting her hit head on the car roof. And though Sally was not injured, it was a wake-up call for the couple.

Why should you buckle up your dog?

According to Jennifer Davidson, the manager of traffic advocacy at AAA, "people don't realize how important it is to buckle up their dog. An unrestrained pet can become a hazardous projectile in the event of an accident or sudden stop, injuring himself, the driver and passengers."

Furthermore, Davidson explains that an unrestrained, 10-lb. dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert approximately 500 lbs. of force, while an unrestrained, 90-lb. dog like the Feldmans' dog Sally, traveling in a car at 30 mph in a crash, will exert about 2700 pounds of force.

The best gear to buckle up your pet

To protect a pet, the driver and other passengers, Davidson recommends that pet-owning drivers use a body harness specifically made for the car travel.

"As long as the dogs are belted in, a well- constructed body harness spreads the crash forces across the dog body," explains Carl Goldberg, inventor of the Roadie Canine Vehicle Restraint Dog Car Harness/Seat Belt.

Goldberg first conceived of the Roadie after he slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision. As a result, his 100-lb. chocolate Lab was ejected from the seat and thrown into the windshield. Fortunately, Goldberg, his daughter or dog were not injured.

Originally, Goldberg designed the product with the help of a veterinary orthopedic surgeon and design engineer because he realized the importance of producing a canine restraint harness that would not choke or injure an animal upon impact. Over the years, he has slightly modified the product to enhance the quality as well as to have a better fitting product. Currently, the product is made in the USA in association with CoverCraft.

When asked why a harness is preferable to a crate when traveling by car, both Davidson and Goldberg agree that a secured crate could explode because a dog could hit the inside walls with such force that the crate could open up and the dog would be thrown out of the car.

Additional dangers caused by unrestrained pets

Davidson also notes that unrestrained pets can cause further dangers, even after an accident occurs. She explains that a frightened dog could bite an emergency responder -- or escape from the vehicle, run into traffic, causing another accident, and even run away.

Safety experts concur that unrestrained pets traveling in vehicles can cost time when dealing with accidents. "If a first responder is bitten by a frightened and uncontrollable dog, emergency resources have to be reallocated to deal with the need of that bitten first responder," says Ines de Pablo, safety expert and owner of Pet Emergency Management Solutions. "Vehicle restraints can help you control a dog at the scene."

Pets and driver distraction

Car restraints are also a great way to limit driver distraction. According to the US Department of Transportation, driver distraction is an epidemic on American roadways. The three main causes of driver distraction include: taking your hands off the wheel, taking your eyes off the road, and taking your mind off driving.

A 2011 survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo, a leading manufacturer of pet travel products, revealed that drivers engage in these risky behaviors when they take their dog along for a ride. Some of the distracting behavior -- such as having your pet sit on your lap; treating, playing or petting your animal; trying to secure him or her; or preventing Fido or Fluffy from climbing over, under or across the seat -- can lead to an accident, injuring both of you as well as others who are traveling on the road.

Why don't pet vehicle restraint laws exist?

Since safety experts and law officials agree that unrestrained dogs traveling in vehicles are dangerous, why aren't there pet "buckle up" laws?

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 enacted legislation mandating that pets be restrained inside the passenger area of a moving vehicle.

Presently, legislation exists in Hawaii, explicitly forbidding drivers from holding pets in their lap. While Arizona, Connecticut and Maine's distracted driving laws may charge drivers with pets on their laps, other states like California and Virginia have failed to pass the legislation, punishing drivers for maintaining pets on their laps while driving.

Arguments against animal vehicle restraint legislation include: the potential costs involved in enforcement; the difficulties involved in enforcement; the perception of over-regulation of private activities by the government; and the cost to individuals to purchase restraints for their pets.

Even if your state does not have vehicle restraint legislation, buckle up your pet and encourage others to do so. The act alone can protect your dog, yourself, and any passengers in your car.

Author Charlotte Reed is a pet care and lifestyle expert.

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