Is driving with your pet a liability?

Americans love their pets, and love to travel with them.  It’s not uncommon to see small pets carried in purses, on bikes, or as passengers on planes.  Even though placing a pet in an airline travel cabin adds expense to travel costs, most pet-lovers don’t bark about the extra cost.  Last year, a bill was passed that allows even train passengers to carry-on cats and dogs.  Pets have become travel companions not just on vacation, but also in every-day commuting by vehicle.  According to dog travel statistics, more than 50% of people travel with their dogs in a car, but only about 16% actually restrain them.  Are pets in a vehicle distracting?  Can pets in the car cause accidents?  Are there laws in Wisconsin laws that apply to driving with pets in the car?

Pet Passenger Survey

  • Nearly six in 10 (56%) respondents have driven with their dog in a vehicle at least once a month over the past year
  • Three in 10 respondents (29%) admit to being distracted by their dog while driving.
  • More than four in five (83%) respondents agree that having an unrestrained dog in a moving car can be dangerous.
  • Sixty-five percent of dog owners admit to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog.

Pets Can Cause Distracted Driving.  Pets are natural distractions.  Vehicles were never really designed to be pet friendly.  Anything that takes your eyes off the road is considered distracted driving and can lead to an auto accident.  NHTSA reports that distracted driving contributes to more than twenty percent of injury crashes.  According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looking away from the road for two seconds doubles your risk of being involved in an auto crash.   If you are in an accident due to another driver being distracted by their pet, that driver can be held liable for the accident, as well as any injuries that you may have sustained.

Traveling with Pets Best Practices.  It is always recommended that pets traveling in a vehicle should be positioned in the back seat.  If this option is not available, the second safest place for pet is in the storage area of the vehicle.  Pets in the front seat on the lap of the driver, is the most dangerous position for you, your pet, and other drivers.  (This is because it impedes safe operation of a motor vehicle.)  What some pet-lovers don’t realize is that having a dog in the passenger front seat can easily set the airbag on.  If there is an accident, any vehicle equipped with front airbags will pose a danger to your pet in the event of an accident.  With all options considered, if you choose to place your pet in the front passenger seat, it is usually acceptable as long as they are properly restrained.

Unrestrained Pets in the Car.  Driving with your pet may pose an unnecessary liability in the event of an accident.  Unrestrained pets in the car pose the highest risk of accidents due to distracted driving.  Kurgo Pet recently released this statistic, “an unrestrained small 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of force in an accident.”  Larger pets will exert far greater pounds of force.  There are harnesses available for dogs that connect directly to seat belt but few people take advantage of this option.  We believe this is due to the fact that most people are not aware of the harnesses.  If safety for yourself and other drivers is truly a top priority, it is recommended to follow these noted guidelines.

Injured in Distracted Driving Accident.  Wisconsin does not currently have laws pertaining to specifically to traveling pets, but general distracted driving laws can be applied in the event of an accident.  Keep in mind that the penalties for violations vary by state, and the laws regarding traveling pets are becoming more specific with time.  If you have been injured in a distracted driving accident involving another vehicle traveling with a pet, it is advisable to seek counsel from an experienced personal injury law firm.  Action Law Offices is a local source for accident attorneys, and the initial case evaluation is free.

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