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Is Your Dog a Distraction When Driving | The Dangers of Dogs in the Front Seat

Picture of a dog in the front seat driving

Most dogs love to go for car rides, and if the truth be told, we love to have them along. Though some families make use of crates or pet restraint systems to ensure the safety of their pets in the event of an accident, many others like to allow Fido to tag along “au naturel”—taking pride of place beside them in the passenger seat. There is no question that it brings us great joy to watch Fido’s ears flapping in the breeze with his head outside the rolled down window, but the question remains: is it safe for dogs to ride in the front seat? If your dog is loose in your car, is he a distraction when you are driving?

The Problem with Loose Dogs While Driving

Though we love the company of having our dogs beside us during a joy ride, there is no question that a loose dog in the car can be a danger both for us and for our best canine pals. Here is a list of potential hazards that can be encountered if travelling in a car with a loose dog:

Car accidents

Unfortunately, car accidents occur on a daily basis. Since they cannot be predicted, it is impossible to prepare for them. Though we think our reflexes will be quick enough to prevent injury to our dog in the event of an accident, the truth is that the G-forces acting upon the vehicle are too strong for a mere human to withstand, no matter how motivated they might be. This means that in the event of a car wreck, it is highly unlikely a dog would survive the impact.

Research asserts that hundreds of pets lose their lives in car accidents on a yearly basis. Why does this occur? Unfortunately, pet owners often are easy prey for puppy dog eyes and forego important safety measures for the joy of having their dog riding shotgun in the passenger seat. Unfortunately, a dog in this position is at an even greater risk of serious injury or death than a person. Since the driver wears a seatbelt to restrain him in the event of a crash, they are far more likely to survive a car wreck, even if it is serious in nature. However, an animal that is not contained in any way would be become a projectile upon impact. Since the force of the dog meeting the interior of the car would be rapid and intense, it would be nearly impossible for the dog to survive such an event. Travelling with a dog in the front seat and without any form of restraint puts the dog at great risk of being thrown into the windshield or even outside the vehicle should a serious accident occur.

Many owners also fail to consider that if a dog is left loose in a vehicle; even if they survive an accident, it is possible the dog may bolt when help arrives to assist his owner. Many dogs go missing at accident sites. With their owners experiencing shock and not thinking as logically as they normally would, it is all too easy for an opened car door to lead to a confused dog running out into oncoming traffic or even disappearing into wooded areas in search of safety.

More than all of this, dogs left loose in a vehicle also have the potential to CAUSE an accident. Though some dogs are well-behaved and remain in the passenger seat, many others like to roam, causing great distraction to their owner. If a dog spots something of interest near the gas and brake pedals, it is all too easy for a collar to become ensnared on a break pedal or for the driver to lose control of their vehicle while they try to return their dog to the front seat. 

Air bag positioning

There are restrictions on where children and young teenagers may sit in a vehicle prior to the age of 13 because of the placement of air bags that when deployed could cause them to suffocate or experience serious injury. This same theory also applies to dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association has issued a statement which declares that a dog sitting in the front seat unrestrained could result in injury or death if impacted by an airbag during an accident.

Other elements of distraction

Picture of a dog with a family in the car

When Fido gets in the car, he is excited and ready to party! Since most car rides end up at a fun place for the dog such as the dog park, beach, or the woods, it is difficult for the dog to contain his enthusiasm. Excited dogs can flit to and fro all over the vehicle, making it difficult for a driver to keep his eyes on the road. Young dogs who have not yet learned how to travel in a car in a mannerly fashion may decide to chew on things like radio control knobs or car upholstery, meaning the driver has to have one eye on the road and one on Fido, a difficult task indeed. If a dog becomes scared, he may run for cover, directly underneath a gas or brake pedal, making it impossible to control the vehicle and guide it to safety.

Since loose dogs in a vehicle are distracting for drivers, many states have made it illegal to travel with a pet who is not properly restrained. Other states have instituted laws whereby an owner can be ticketed and fined if their dog is found to be behaving in a way that is distracting while a vehicle is in motion.

Comfort of the dog

Though we enjoy the close proximity of our dogs on a drive, the truth is car seats are not actually that comfortable for a dog to rest in. For extended travel, a crate is a much more attractive option for your pooch as it allows him to recline on a level surface lined with something soft.

Is it safe to drive with a loose dog? Not only is not safe for you, it is also not safe for your best canine pal. Thankfully, there are many different types of containment you can use to keep your dog safe and secure while along your next car ride.

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