Driving with Pets: Dangerous Distraction

Driving with your pets can be a dangerous business.

In 2008, there were 6,000 fatalities due to accidents caused by distracted drivers, according to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

And, in a recent survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Kurgo, a pet product company, an overwhelming 80 percent of respondents said they've driven with their pets on a variety of car trips including day trips, local errands and leisure trips, the pet store, dog parks and to work.

But only 17 percent said they use any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog, causing a distraction AAA says is equal to talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.

To help make the ride safer for you and your pet, "Early Show" Correspondent and Resident Veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell shared some easy ways drivers with pets can prevent some of these dangers:

The most important headline for pet owners: Restrain your pet. Keep them in an enclosed area. This is safer for a number of reasons. First of all, keeping your pet in a tighter space will keep them from wandering around. If you have a pet wandering while you are driving, the chances you will be distracted are pretty good. Whether it's to get them from scratching the seats, or to stop them from barking, almost inevitably, your attention is going to be drawn away from the road. Having a driver distracted by a pet can be just as dangerous as a driving while texting or talking on the phone. Secondly, a dog or cat in an accident can create a deadly amount of force if thrown from the car.

TIP: USE SAFETY BARRIERS THROUGHOUT THE CAR
Safety barriers are important to your pets for two reasons. First, they stop your bet from being projected in case of a short stop. Second, they stop your pet from becoming a distraction by keeping them in one place. There are two different sets of barriers for your car. One fits in the opening between your trunk and your back seat. These are most often metal or plastic bars. These stop your pet from being projected forward in case of an accident. They vary in size depending on your model of car, so make sure that you get the proper one for your vehicle. These will run you somewhere between $50 and $100.

The other barrier sits in between the front seats and back seats. Most often these are made of netting, strong fabric or plastic. These created mostly for the driver, to stop a dog from suddenly jumping in your lap, or onto the gear shift. Again, you need to make sure when purchasing a barrier like this that it fits into your particular model. These are a bit cheaper than the cage barriers, and will run you between generally between $10 and $40.

TIP: MATCH DOG SIZE TO PROPER SEATBELT RESTRAINT
Dog seat belts are adjustable straps that keep your dog in place while he or she is inside your car. This is the best safety device intended to reduce the possibility of getting injured, especially for agitated animals like dog. Seat belt restraint ensures that your dog will behave properly while riding and prevents him from hitting the hard interior of your vehicle when there's a sudden stop.

Once a dog car harness is worn on your pet during your long road trip, you will have the peace of mind knowing that your pet will not roam or create damage inside you car. At the same time, you dog can't jump over the window because he is properly secured. This will eliminate pet driver distraction.
The proper use of seat belt harnesses DEPEND SOLELY on the size of your dog. Big dogs require big seat belt restraints, and smaller dogs will only be restrained with smaller devices. Matching your dog's size to the belt is the only way that these restraints can be effective, and depending on the size the price can run you from $10 to $50.

TIP: DOGGY BOOSTER SEATS ARE ALSO SAFE AND COMFORTABLE
Another option to seat belt restraints are booster seats. Booster seats for dogs are a safe, effective way to keep your dogs safe in the car, providing a comfortable seat for the dog to enjoy while strapped in through the car's seat belt or booster seat attachments. Smaller breed dogs, especially, can benefit from a booster seat, as they can easily get jostled around in a seat belt restraint or large carrier.
If you have a mid to large breed dog, a booster seat is probably not a good option for you. Most booster seats on the market are only equipped for dogs up to 40 pounds. There are many other options available however, including back seat hammocks, seat belt restraint systems and zipline and harness restraint systems. For smaller breed dogs, booster seats are ideal.

TIP: WHEN USING A CARRIER, SECURE PROPERLY
First and foremost, if you are using a carrier to put your cat or dog in the car, make sure you have the proper sized carrier for your animal. If you get a carrier that is too small, the animal won't be comfortable, and if it's too large, the animal will get bounced around during the ride. But when using a pet carrier, it's important that it is secured properly, so that it doesn't fly around during a collision.
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