In my neighborhood, people tend to bring their dogs everywhere — I see pets at the mall, while grocery shopping, and even eating at restaurants. I don't know if it's just a Florida thing, but sticking a dog in your purse when you leave the house is normal here. But is it dangerous to drive with your dog? According to a new report from Volvo, most pet owners don't know much about driving safely with dogs — like that animals should be restrained, just like humans, when you're traveling. "When we examined 2017 commercials of vehicle manufacturers and other major brands, we found that they continuously celebrate dogs in vehicles in unsafe positions, such as sitting in the front seat, unbuckled or sticking their heads out the window," says the full report, "This celebration of dogs in risky situations further contributes to the average pet parent’s ignorance when it comes to pet safety."
Volvo surveyed 2,000 adults in the U.S. for the report and found that nearly all pet owners drive with their dogs, but almost half of them don't have any harnesses, gates or crates for their dogs. And over one-third of millennials feel guilty about bringing dogs along for a drive. “Our survey showed that pet parents want to travel with their furry friends, but worry about safety,” says Jim Nichols, product & technology communications manager at Volvo, in a press release provided to Bustle.
It's easy to ignore this research, especially if you feel safe with your dog in the car. The AARP says that if a mid-sized dog isn't restrained, it could crash into other passengers or even through the windshield, which creates a hazard for both the dog and the people in the car. Volvo's survey found that 71 percent of pet owners want car manufacturers to incorporate pet safety features in their vehicles, which would make it easier for people to keep their animals safe.
The American Veterinary Medical Association also recommends using a harness and warns about the dangers of having an unrestrained animal in your car. "A loose, small pet could crawl down in the footwell, interfering with use of the brake or accelerator pedal," they write on their website. "A small pet sitting in your lap could be injured or killed by the airbag or could be crushed between your body and the airbag in a collision, and a large pet leaning across your lap can interfere with your view of the road and can be injured by the air bag in a collision. Unrestrained pets could be thrown out or through windows or windshields in a collision. And not only could your pet be injured in the collision, but it might also increase your risk of collision by distracting you and taking your attention away from where it should be — on the road."
Because I'm not a pet owner, I'd never put much thought into whether dogs needed to be buckled up. I usually smile when I see people driving with their dogs right next to them, so it's surprising to think about the potential harm. Don't feel bad if you hadn't thought about it, either — based on Volvo's findings, most Americans don't really know what pet safety in a car is even supposed to look like. So what should you do? According to Volvo, harness belts and dog gates can help keep your pet safe and make sure it doesn't move around your car. The AARP article says you should never drive with your dog sitting in your lap. Not only is it a distraction, but if you get into an accident that triggers your airbag, things could turn tragic. The good news is that you can find relatively inexpensive car seats for your dog online, and you'll be able to ride around in peace as a result.