Traveling with a dog in car can distract, stress out driver

Here’s a pet peeve …

Traveling with a dog in the car can distract and stress out the driver.

A new study reveals that allowing pets to roam unrestrained in a moving vehicle leads to “significantly more unsafe driving behaviors, more time distracted and increased stress” on drivers and pets.

Man and boy traveling with a dog in car

“While pets roaming around the car can be cute and convenient, it poses serious risk for both drivers and their pets, both in terms of causing distractions and increasing the chances of serious injury in the event of an accident,” said Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro of Cornell University Veterinary Specialists.

Although pets now are often “ingrained” as family members, many pet owners aren’t keeping their safety in mind when driving with them, according to Volvo Reports: Keeping Pets Safe on the Road.

Volvo and The Harris Poll, which conducted the survey on which the report was based, followed 15 drivers and their dogs for two hours each, a total of 30 hours on the road. They examined how driving with an unrestrained pet affected driving behaviors compared to when an owner used pet restraints, such as pet seat belts, harnesses, crates and carriers.

Here’s what the study found:

  • Unsafe driving behaviors, including the pet climbing on a driver’s lap or hanging their head out the window, more than doubled to 649 instances while unrestrained to 274 while restrained.
  • The time drivers were districted, including dogs jumping from seat to seat or taking drivers’ eyes off the road, more than doubled to three hours and 39 minutes from one hour, 39 minutes.
  • Stress on both driver and pets increased, with heart rates rising for drivers and their pets. Unrestrained dogs’ heart rates measured seven beats per minutes faster, while drivers’ heart rates were 28 to 34 beats per minute higher.

“Unfortunately, in my field, we see the potential devastating consequences regularly, many of which can be avoided simply by ensuring our animals are safely secured,” said Mazzaferro.

The 15 pet owners in the observational study were selected from among 1,433 pet owners included in an online survey of 2,000 adults ages 18 and older.

This year’s survey, conducted in March, was a follow-up to last year’s report, in which drivers expressed anxiety about the safety of their pets when traveling.

Among those results, which focused on millennials (young adults):

  • Half would rather go on a road trip with their dog than their family (39 percent in general).
  • Four in 10 choose weekend getaways with their dog rather than partner (28 percent overall).
  • About 32 percent of pet owners have left a dog at home thinking travel was not safe enough.

Volvo has an interest in the survey results because it claims to be “the leading vehicle manufacturer to develop safety accessories for pets that directly tie into the safety system of the car.” Accessories include a dog harness, load compartment divider, dog gate and protective steel grille.

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