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How Dangerous is Driving With an Unrestrained Pet?

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How Often Do Unrestrained Pets Cause Car Accidents?

How Often Do Unrestrained Pets Cause Car Accidents?

Nov 11, 2021

A pet can play a very special role in an individual’s or family’s life. But when you’re traveling in a motor vehicle with your pet unrestrained, you’re not only endangering the animal – you’re endangering yourself and all others sharing the road. Just like notorious distracted driving behaviors such as cell phone use, texting, and daydreaming, driving with an unrestrained pet can take a driver’s eyes off the road for a dangerous amount of time.

How Often Do Unrestrained Pets Cause Car Accidents?

Below we will review the potential dangers of driving with an unrestrained pet in further detail, look at how having an animal in the car can actually increase the potential for an accident, and provide information on how to file a personal injury civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group in the event that you’re harmed by a driver who is distracted by a pet inside the vehicle.

What are the Dangers of Driving/Traveling With an Unrestrained Pet?

In 2010, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study confirmed some alarming figures related to the number of drivers who travel with unrestrained pets. AAA’s survey, which specifically focused on people who had confirmed driving with their dogs in their vehicles within the past year, confirmed the following statistics:

  • One third of dog owners admitted that their pets sometimes distracted them while they were driving.
  • More than half admitted to petting their dog while driving.
  • 21% said they allowed their dog to ride in their lap.
  • A few people reported that, while driving, they often played with their dogs or even gave them water.

Unrestrained pet in a motor vehicle is a danger to everyone inside

Unrestrained pet in a motor vehicle is a danger to everyone inside

But perhaps most concerning was the fact that fewer than one in five respondents (<20%) in the AAA survey who had driven with a dog in the car confirmed using any type of restraint. As AAA’s report confirmed, an unrestrained pet in a motor vehicle is a danger to everyone inside (pets, drivers, and passengers).

An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure,” said Jennifer Huebner, then-AAA National Traffic Safety Programs manager, in an announcement noting the survey’s findings. “Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle.”

In terms of the greatest danger for dogs and other pets, the front seat is by far the most perilous – whether restrained or not – according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Moreover, airbags – a lifesaver for many humans who are involved in car crashes – can be even more dangerous to unrestrained pets, particularly dogs, when they explosively inflate. In fact, airbags can be even more dangerous for pets than a car accident impact itself.

An unrestrained pet can become a projectile whose trajectory is only stopped by a windshield or vehicle sidewall. Additionally, unrestrained pets can be crushed if a driver or passenger is thrown from the vehicle during a collision.

Among the respondents who participated in the AAA survey, 26% said they allowed their dogs or other pets to ride in the front seat.

An unrestrained pet can be hugely distracting – if he is seeking your attention, putting his face right in front of yours, starts chewing up the upholstery or is vomiting because he is carsick,” Katherine Miller, director of applied science and research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.

A pet that weighs 50 pounds, in a 35 mile per hour collision, is projected forward like a cannonball with 1,500 pounds of force, and that can cause critical injuries to the folks in the front seat,” Miller added via the L.A. Times interview.

How Many Car Accidents are Caused by Unrestrained Pets?

According to a 2010 story from the Los Angeles Times, every year, tens of thousands of car accidents are believed to have been caused by unrestrained pets. The exact number of unrestrained pet car accidents, however, is indeterminable as no organization tracks those specific figures at this time.

That same Times story noted that in 1999, well-known author Stephen King suffered several broken bones and a collapsed lung when he was struck by a driver who admitted to being distracted by his dog.

What are the Benefits of Restraining Your Pet in the Car?

When your dog or other type of pet is restrained within the vehicle, it is exponentially safer in the event of an unexpected collision. Restraining a pet:

  • Keeps the animal from being thrown forward or crushed
  • Keeps the animal from running off after a car crash (and potentially being struck by another vehicle)
  • Keeps the animal from interfering with first responders as they arrive at the crash scene

Is it Illegal to Drive With an Unrestrained Pet in the Vehicle in California?

Is it Illegal to Drive With an Unrestrained Pet in the Vehicle in California?

In 2008, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to sign a bill that would have imposed fines for drivers traveling with unrestrained pets. At the time, Schwarzenegger said the bill wasn’t a priority.

Currently, it is completely legal to drive with unrestrained pets in the vehicle in California. Accordingly, pet owners are personally responsible for ensuring that they do not engage in distracted driving or other risky behaviors while behind the wheel as a result of unrestrained pets.

What if I Was Injured in a Car Accident by a Driver with an Unrestrained Pet?

While there is no law against driving with an unrestrained pet in California, that doesn’t mean that, in the event of an unfortunate car accident leading to an injury or even a tragic fatality, the driver who caused the crash as a result of his or her unrestrained pet can’t face severe repercussions through a civil lawsuit.

Regardless of the law on driving with unrestrained pets, all drivers must still maintain a duty of care to everyone sharing the road. By driving while distracted – whether as a result of texting or having an unrestrained pet in the car – you could be opening yourself up to a serious (and potentially expensive) civil lawsuit.

If you experienced a medical malpractice incident, don’t wait to file a claim. Contact our expert attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Furthermore, if you’ve been injured by a driver who was distracted by an unrestrained pet and caused a crash, you could be entitled to substantial financial compensation through a personal injury civil lawsuit with Dordulian Law Group (DLG).

By filing a personal injury civil claim, injured unrestrained pet-related car accident victims can pursue financial compensation for a variety of applicable damages. Some common damages recoverable after an unrestrained pet-related car accident may include:

Economic Damages:

  • Hospital or medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Physical therapy expenses
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Lost earning capacity

Non-Economic Damages:

To arrange for a free and no obligation consultation with a member of DLG’s proven Car Accident Division lawyers today, contact us online or by phone at 818-322-4056. To date, we’ve helped injured victims like you secure more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts while maintaining a 98% success record.

With DLG, there is never any fee until we successfully recover a maximum financial damages award for your car accident injury.


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