Fido may love to ride in the car, but too many owners are putting themselves and their beloved pets in danger by engaging in distracting behaviors on the road, according to one recent survey of dog owners.
The survey — conducted by the American Automobile Association and Kurgo, a manufacturer of pet travel products — examined the behind-the-wheel habits of dog owners who travel with their pets.
Nearly six in 10 drivers — 56 percent of respondents — said they travel by car with their dog at least once a month. Respondents admitted to petting their dogs (52 percent), taking their hands off the wheel to hold the dog while braking (23 percent), and using their hands to prevent the dog from getting into the front seat (19 percent), according to the survey.
The AAA foundation for traffic safety said that looking away from the road for 2 seconds doubled the chance of being in a crash.
Only 16 percent of respondents said they used a pet restraint when traveling with their furry companions, while more than 83 percent acknowledged that an unrestrained dog in the car can be dangerous.
"Drivers should use a pet restraint system for their dog every time the pet is in the vehicle," said Cathleen Lewis, director of public affairs for the Florham Park-based AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. "A restraint will not only limit distractions, but also protect the driver, the pet and other passengers in the event of a crash or sudden stop."
At a New Jersey PetSmart recently, Marge Andrews said she drives with her dog, but does not use a harness to safeguard Bella, a Yorkshire and Boston terrier mix puppy she rescued just two weeks ago. "She sits in the seat next to me, staring out the window," she said.
Another dog owner, Diane Lombardi, said she sees people on the road, distracted by their dogs all the time and suggests owners invest in a harness or seat belt.
"If you love your dog, treat them like you would a baby," said Lombardi. "Would you leave your baby loose in a car? If the dog is not tied down and you have an accident, they could end up running off or worse. It's absurd not to use a harness."
Barbara B. Goldberg, owner of two rescue dogs, a Finnish Spitz mix and a Basenji Thai Ridgeback mix, says she uses harnesses. She keeps them comfortable and safe by also tying them to the back seat headrests of her Subaru Forester. "I'm concerned about their safety, as well as mine and anyone on the road," she said.
Goldberg also keeps a body pillow in the back seat to provide additional comfort for the dogs and less chance of distraction for her. "They ride in better comfort than I do."
Raul Martinez, who was shopping with his wife, Belinda, and their two dogs at PetSmart, admits that he used to drive with the dogs in his lap when they were puppies, but said it's "irresponsible" to drive with a dog that could distract you on a trip.
"I guess it's just as distracting to have a child in your car, but we bring a carrying case with us for the dogs," Belinda said.
Three percent of respondents admitted to taking pictures of their dog with cell phones while driving.
"That crosses the line," said Renee Hooker, 21. "It parallels texting while driving."
Andrews called it irresponsible. "I would never take pictures of her while driving, that's just ridiculous," she said. "I'm aggravated when I see people on their cell phones, driving."