Only 10 years ago, about 19 percent of owners were bringing their furry pals along with them on road trips. Since then, that number has more than doubled, as 37 percent of owners say they take their dog in the car with them, rather than leaving him behind when they travel.
According to the 2015-2016 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 65% of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 79.7 million homes. Of those, pets, 77.8 million are dogs and 85.8 million are cats, and an increasing number of these furry companions accompany their families on in the car.
As part of National Pet Month, we're sharing results of a joint survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo that asked dog owners how often they drive with their dog and examined their habits behind the wheel. The survey results indicated that drivers not only love to bring Fido in the car, but often engage in risky behaviors when man’s best friend is along for the ride—including playing with them while driving! Bringing your pet along for the ride can mean not just added distractions for the driver but added dangers for all passengers, including pets. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash, so, with dogs taking approximately five car trips per year, it is crucial to keep pooches properly secure and comfortable along the way.
Motorists frequently bring dogs along, engaging in distracting behaviors
According to the survey, nearly six in 10 (56 percent) respondents drove with their dog at least once a month during the survey period, however, many participated in behaviors that took their attention away from the road.
The most common activity was petting their dog (52 percent), nearly one-quarter (23 percent) used their hands or arms to hold their dog in place while applying brakes, and 19 percent used their hands or arms to keep their dog from climbing into the front seat—creating a situation where they remove at least one hand from the steering wheel.
Other distracting behaviors drivers admitted to included reaching into the back seat to interact with their dog (18 percent), allowing their dog to sit in their lap or holding their dog (17 percent), giving food or treats (13 percent), playing with their dog (5 percent), and 3 percent even said they have taken a photo of their dog while driving. These behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash.
Drivers admit dangers of unrestrained pets, but most not using a pet restraint
Just the other day, my son and I were stopped at a red light and saw a very cute doglet poking his head out the open passenger window of the car next to us; I rolled down my window and said hello to the dog, and asked him why his daddy didn’t make him wear his seatbelt. The driver of the car looked up, and said “Oh, I have it right here, and then proceeded to buckle the dog’s harness into the seatbelt. Which supports the survey statistic that shows that even though 83 percent of respondents acknowledged that an unrestrained dog in a moving car can be dangerous, only 16 percent said they regularly use a pet restraint. The guy had the restraint in the car, but hadn’t bothered tethering his dog until I said something about it.
Survey findings showed that restraint use is three times greater among drivers who have heard of situations where unrestrained dogs were injured or caused injury to other passengers in a car crash (32 percent) compared to respondents who were not aware of such a situation and still use a restraint (9 percent). Using a pet restraint, such as those available from Kurgo and other pet companies, can aid in limiting distractions and help protect pets and passengers.
“Drivers should use a pet restraint system for your dog every time their pet is in the vehicle,” said Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National, Traffic Safety Programs manager. “A restraint like those offered by Kurgo will not only limit distractions, but also protect you, your pet and other passengers in the event of a crash or sudden stop.”
Calm dogs and lack of awareness top reasons for not using a pet restraint
More than two in five (42 percent) respondents stated they did not use a pet restraint because their dog is calm and they didn’t think he/she needs a restraint. However, a calm dog will be thrown with the same amount of force as an active dog in the event of a crash or sudden stop—a danger for all passengers as well as the pet.
“An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in its path,” said Huebner-Davidson.
Other reasons cited for not using a restraint included: never considered it (39 percent); just take dog on short trips (29 percent); and 12 percent wanted their dog to be able to put its head out the window.
Eighteen percent of respondents who drove with a dog in the vehicle also have children under the age of 13 who ride with them. Seven in 10 of these motorists have driven with a child and an unrestrained dog in the vehicle at the same time.
A variety of reasonably priced products are available to keep pets safe and help dog owners reduce potential distractions caused by pets while driving. There have been many recent innovations in this market from Kurgo and others to make these products more comfortable for the dog and convenient to use for the owner. AAA recommends owners use a restraint system anytime they are driving with their pet—even short trips close to home.
Pet owners who want to take their pet on a longer trip can find all of the information they need to make their vacation easier and safer in Traveling with Your Pet: The AAA PetBook® including pet-friendly AAA Approved property listings and advice on transporting pets.
The online study was conducted by AAA and Kurgo among a sample of 1,000 dog owners who had driven with their dog in the 12 months prior to the survey. The study results have an average statistical error of +/- 3.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.