Owning a pet can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. Traveling with a pet can be even more fun, and dogs especially enjoy car rides for the whirring views and wind blowing through their fur. On the other hand, failing to protect Spot in a vehicle can be dangerous to your pet and a distraction to you, causing a car accident. You may remember a 1999 incident in which a driver distracted by his dog struck famous author Stephen King in a pedestrian accident. In a survey by the Automobile Club of America, 65 percent of drivers polled admitted to allowing their dogs to sit on their laps while they drove, and one in three further confessed that they were distracted by their dogs while driving. Pet owners do not always use the best judgment when it comes to training, caring for, or traveling with their pets, but you can choose to protect yourself by following the law and common sense.
Laws in California are sparse on driving with an animal in a motor vehicle. A 2008 bill proposed a ban on driving with unrestrained animals in a motor vehicle, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. One specific regulation on animal travel exists in the California DMV’s Motor Vehicle Handbook, stating that a driver may not transport an animal in the back or bed of a pickup truck unless the animal is properly secured to prevent the animal from falling, jumping, or being thrown from the vehicle. The Los Angeles Police Department has also stated that it will ticket drivers traveling at unsafe speeds with a pet on their lap, as there is no safe speed to operate a vehicle with a dog on a driver’s lap. Technically, no other kinds of pet travel are specifically prohibited by law unless they amount to distracted driving, which is both possible and likely, but that does not mean you should not take every precaution possible to safeguard your pet.
Regardless of whether laws exist to prevent certain practices, protecting the safety of your pet and preventing yourself from becoming distracted in the car can be accomplished by using common sense.
- If possible, travel with your pet in a travel crate, travel harness, or pet seatbelt so that it cannot move freely around the car while you drive, causing distractions.
- Do not pet or play with your pets while driving.
- Do not allow your dog to ride in the passenger seat of the vehicle; if you are in a collision, the animal can be seriously injured by the airbag or windshield.
- Do not allow pets to roam freely in the front of the vehicle, as they may fall onto gear shifters, gas or brake pedals, or even the steering wheel.
- If you travel with your dog in the bed of a pickup truck, ensure that you use a proper restraint; a leash or tether that is too long could injure your pet if he attempts to jump out.
- If you drive an SUV, consider installing a dog gate in the back cargo area so that dogs can walk, sit, and stand freely while still protected from collisions and far removed from being a distraction to you on the road.
By planning ahead and putting safety first, you can enjoy your trip without the worry of injuring yourself, your pet, or another person. Despite all precautions, however, accidents can still happen. If you or a loved one has been in an auto accident, call an experienced San Diego car accident attorney at The Sargent Firm Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your case.