Pet Distractions While Driving

When we think about distracted driving, we most often think about talking or texting on a cell phone. Those aren’t the only distractions drivers face, however. Many people don’t think about pet distractions while driving. However, driving with a pet unrestrained in a car can lead to driver distraction.

A 2011 survey of dog owners found that over 50% of people reported that their attention was taken away from the road in the previous year while petting their dog, and nearly 20% admitted to having taken their hands off the wheel to keep a dog from getting in the front seat. In addition, 17% reported that they had held or allowed a dog to sit in their lap, and 3% even admitted to taking a photo of their dog while they were driving.

Considering that there are nearly 90 million dogs in the U.S. (not to mention cats), those numbers show there are potentially a lot of distracted drivers on the roads.

An animal in a car (dog, cat, or other) could also affect a driver’s ability to control the car by interfering with steering or changing gears, getting under the gas or brake pedals, or blocking the driver’s view. Any of these could cause an accident by themselves, but the driver may also be distracted by trying to control the animal.

Besides being a distraction that could lead to a crash, having an unrestrained animal in the car is dangerous, both for the animal and the occupants of the car. In the event of a crash, an animal can be thrown with great force and can be injured or killed, or can injure or kill a driver or passenger. Think about an unrestrained 10-pound animal in a 30 mph crash—the pet becomes a projectile that can be flung about the car with 300 pounds of force. Even if you avoid a crash, sudden braking at high speed can cause an unrestrained animal to be hurled with deadly force.

Despite the dangers of driving with unrestrained animals, only eight states currently have laws regarding restraining an animal in a vehicle. So far only Hawaii specifically bans holding an animal in your lap while driving. Only a handful of states prohibit actions that could be considered distractions while driving, and this could include interacting with an animal. Arizona currently doesn’t have a statewide law on distracted driving.

Several accidents have been reported to have been caused by distractions from animals in a car. These include an accident in North Dakota caused by a dog that leaped into a woman’s lap, causing her to crash into a pond, and an accident caused by distraction from a cat that caused the driver to swerve into a school bus.

To avoid injury (or even death) to you or your pet, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that you use a harness or carrier to restrain your pet in a vehicle. The Center for Pet Safety has carried out studies of harnesses, crates, and carriers and has made recommendations about restraining animals in cars.

By restraining your pet in your vehicle you are less likely to become distracted by your pet while driving, which can help keep you, your passengers, and pets safer in the event of an accident.

Distracted Driving

As drivers, our ability to recognize danger and appropriately react to hazardous situations depends heavily on our sense of sight. When we drive, our eyes are constantly transmitting messages to our brain to help keep us safe.  But if you are distracted, even for just a couple of seconds, you increase the probability of putting yourself and others in danger.

We’ve all been behind or next someone guilty of distracted driving–who drifts into our lane or brakes suddenly because they aren’t paying attention to the road, or who is bobbing his head with the self deception that he is able to drive safely while texting.

According to Donald Fisher, a mechanical and industrial engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts and director of the Human Performance Laboratory, which studies driver behavior and safety, it takes two seconds for a driver to notice and react to a change in the road. Dr. Fisher says that a driver who texts is taking his or her eyes off the road for intervals of more than two seconds. He says finding the right key on a cell phone keypad can take longer than two seconds. Dr. Fisher also found that young, inexperienced drivers tended to have more frequent and longer periods of looking down, away from the road.

Many individuals have great confidence in their reaction time, but they don’t realize that texting involves visual, manual and cognitive attention, making texting the most consuming and fatal distraction they can do while driving.potentially

When driving, there are three different components involved in reacting to a hazardous road situation. The first is the mental processing time–the time it takes the brain to process that a hazardous condition exists and that it must respond accordingly. The second is movement time, which involves the action the driver has to take to avoid an accident by braking, speeding up, swerving, etc. The last is the device response time, which is the time it takes the vehicle to respond to the action taken by the driver to the situation. For example, a car will not stop immediately when a driver steps on the brakes. The amount of time it will take a car to stop depends on how fast the car is moving plus the condition of the road.

When a driver’s ability to make quick decisions is slowed or restricted by inattentiveness they place themselves in a much higher statistical risk of being in a motor vehicle accident. Making sure you’re using all your perceptive skills and senses while driving could make the difference between life and death. Next time you get behind the wheel of a car, take a couple of seconds to put your cell phone away before you hit the road. Those two seconds could just save your life.

Distractions Put Teen Drivers at Higher Risk for Accidents

One of the most important milestones in a teenager’s life is getting that set of keys to their first car and the freedom that comes along with it. The last thing on a teen driver’s mind is the associated risks of driving and the eye-opening statistics that show that teen driving is risky. The summer months prove to be the most dangerous for young drivers as they have more free time to spend on the road.

Whether it’s due to their novice skills or easily distracted nature, the risk of being in a car crash is four times more likely for drivers between the ages of 16 and 19. Additionally, their chances of a fatal collision are highest within the first six months of obtaining their driver’s license.

Car accidents are the leading cause of deaths for teenagers in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

These risks increase even more when there are teen passengers in the car. Like texting and driving, having other young people in the vehicle serve as an easy distraction that deter teen drivers from focusing on the road.

One tool that is decreasing these risks for teens is Graduated Driver Licensing programs (GDL). This tiered driving program allows new drivers to ease into full driving privileges as they gain experience and driving hours. In Arizona, teens must be at least 15 years and 6 months old to obtain their graduated instruction permit. At age 16 they may apply for their graduated driver’s license after completion of various criteria. To view this information you may visit the Arizona Department of Transportation web site. This program enables teen drivers to learn how to navigate the roads safely under lower risk situations.

AAA offers interactive tools to prepare both parents and teens for driving, including a guide to teen driver safety. Some of these tips include:

• Always wearing a seatbelt
• Not riding with other teens in the vehicle without parental consent
• Being a safe passenger
• Restrict night time driving
• Always remain alert of potentially hazardous situations
• Never drive aggressively- aggressive driving increases chances of a collision drastically

There are many resources available for both parents and teen drivers to educate themselves about safe driving. Remember to practice healthy driving habits in front of your teen.

Texting While Driving–A Risky Gamble

Gambling is part of the human condition. People flock to Las Vegas to risk losing a small amount of money to have a chance at winning big. Many times, the end result is losing big, while winning nothing.

This same risk behavior analysis occurs when people text while driving. Most who text while driving believe that they can do so safely—after all, they’ve done it before and nothing bad happened. This type of gambling, even if one has gotten away with it before, is far riskier than losing money in Las Vegas.

When we text while driving, in the two or more seconds of focusing our attention on the cell phone instead of the road, we are gambling that something unexpected will not happen.

We are gambling that a small child will not at that moment dart across the street chasing a ball.

We are gambling that the large van in front of us, which had been going 40 miles per hour, is not going to suddenly veer off into the left turn bay, immediately exposing us to a stopped row of cars.

We are gambling that the green light we were approaching isn’t going to turn yellow the instant we train our eyes on our cell phone, leaving us in a position to run a red light at the intersection.

We are gambling that the mother and her two small children who were not very noticeable when they started walking across the unmarked crosswalk will be able to see that we are not being safe drivers and will somehow avoid a catastrophe for herself and her children.

We are also gambling that the driver next to us is going to be paying attention to the road, and not to a cell phone, and is going to avoid causing a sudden emergency to which we would be unable to respond because of our momentary focus on texting.

Texting While Driving Illegal in Tucson

Yes, laws across the country are changing, so that texting, or even reading a text, will be illegal. On April 1, 2012, a new ordinance will take effect in Tucson, Arizona, that will make it illegal to text or read a text while driving.

However, we should avoid texting while driving not only because of the new law, but also because eventually, such gambling can cause us to lose everything. The safest bet while driving is to expect the unexpected, and to focus exclusively on driving.