There are over 78 million dogs living in American homes, and chances are pretty good (around 40%) that your household includes at least one canine companion. But if you're among the millions of people taking Fido out for a drive in the family car, a new study indicates that you're doing a terrible job of keeping him (and yourself) safe on the road.
The study in question was commissioned by AAA and Kurgo and found that over half (56%) of dog owners have driven somewhere with their dog over the past year. In itself, that's not so bad: after all, what dog-lover doesn't want to spend more time with her hound? It's how drivers are dealing with their furry friends that's the problem.
Here are some of the study's major takeaways:
* About 30% of those surveyed admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving.
* 13% said that they've fed their dog treats while in traffic.
* 17% said that they've held their dogs or allowed them to sit on their laps while driving.
* 23% said that they've used a hand or an arm to restrain a dog while putting on the brakes.
* Over half -- 52% -- have taken at least one hand off the steering wheel to pet a dog while driving.
* In all, 65% -- basically, two out of three drivers -- admitted to partaking in some sort of distracted behavior, including 3% of respondents who've whipped out cameras and cell phones to take snaps of Spot.
The irony is that thanks to Ray LaHood, Oprah, and others, we're well aware of the dangers of distracted driving. But nearly all of today's PSAs focus on the problem of using mobile phones behind the wheel. Almost no one mentions the many, many other potential distractions, like eating, drinking, smoking, or, in this case, petting a pooch.
So what's the answer for pet owners? The specifics can vary, depending on the size and disposition of your dog as well as the vehicle you drive. but as we pointed out a few weeks ago, it's in your best interest to restrain your dog in some way. (Sadly, only about 16% do.) In the best of all possible worlds, you'd do that with a crate or harness, but at the very least, vehicles should have a barrier (other than the driver's right arm) that prevents a dog from worming her way into the front seat.
Of course, there are a couple of caveats. Neither AAA nor Kurgo discuss the methodology of the survey -- how many people were surveyed, when, etc. And it bears mentioning that Kurgo is a purveyor of dog harnesses and other travel equipment for pet owners, which is convenient, to say the least.
None of that is to discount the importance of pet safety, especially on the road. Stay tuned next week for a first-hand account of a 2,500-mile vacation done with four dogs in tow. Rest assured, it's been a real learning experience.
If you have a few spare minutes this Wednesday, feel free to check out this PDF overview of the AAA/Kurgo survey.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection