Driving While Petting: Deadly Dog Distractions

The dangers of driving while texting and talking on a cell phone have become hot button issues across the U.S., but a recent study by the Automobile Association of America (AAA) has highlighted another dangerous example of distracted driving - having a pet inside your vehicle.

According to the AAA's online survey of 1,000 dog owners, 21 percent say they let their dog sit on their lap while they drive, while more than 50 percent admit to petting their dog while driving. Seven percent said they fed their dog while driving, and another 5 percent actually played with their favorite pooch!

The startling numbers drew quick responses from pet advocacy groups, who called the practice "dangerous" and noted that an unrestrained dog could seriously injure or kill someone in a 35-mile-per-hour car accident. They could also interfere with rescue crews as they are likely injured, frightened, and protective after a serious accident.

While more than half the states in the U.S. now have laws addressing cell phone use while driving, only Hawaii has a law that prohibits anyone from having a pet on his or her lap while driving. California tried to pass a similar law in 2008 but failed when it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Virginia also tried but failed to enact a "no pet" law.

The states' failure to address the problem has not prevented attorneys from filing lawsuits on behalf of people injured or killed in accidents involving pet distractions. In response, the Humane Society of the U.S. has advocated using a restraining harness when travelling with a dog and keeping the pet in the backseat to protect it from the potentially hazardous release of an air bag in the event of an accident. Advocates state that cats don't like riding in a car or being restrained, so keeping them in a pet carrier strapped behind a seat belt is acceptable.

If you or a loved one has been victimized by a driver risking others' health for the attention of his pet, then you should promptly contact a reputable personal injury attorney. While the laws don't yet outlaw this behavior, it puts Illinois motorists at risk and the at-fault parties should be held accountable.