Driving with pets doubles crash risk among elderly

May 15, 2013

A recent study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has found that senior citizens driving with their pets face a greater risk of possible vehicle collisions. As reported by NBC News, the crash rate for senior drivers with pets is twice as high as those who rode without pets.

dog leaning out window

Image by Lulu Hoeller

Professor Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., Departments of Epidemiology, Ophthalmology and Surgery, and senior author of the UAB study said, “There is no direct evidence that driving with pets is or is not a threat to public safety; however, indirect evidence exists based on distracted driving research on texting, eating or interacting with electronics or even other passengers. And there are certainly anecdotal reports in the news media of crashes and even fatalities caused by drivers distracted by a pet in the vehicle.”

Any kind of distraction while driving has a tendency to delay an individual’s response times, especially older drivers’. According to McGwin, distracting elements like an active, potentially moving animal increases the likelihood that an older driver will be unable to respond to a driving situation in time. This may become a source of worry for the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is constantly working to reduce the distracted driving crashes that amount to 10% of all U.S. highway fatalities.

The UAB survey on driving habits revealed that more than half of the pet owners had driven with pets in the back seats. Moreover, the crash rate of those who rarely or sometimes drove with pets matched the accident rates of people who drove without pets. The survey was conducted on 2000 licensed drivers, age 70 and older (who did not live in assisted living homes) including 691 pet owners. Participants took a survey on driving habits where pet owners were asked about the frequency of driving with pets.

dog in back seat

Traveling with pets without restraints can turn out to be risky in many ways. Image by abbynormy.

Although 83 percent of the people surveyed believed that an unrestrained dog, in a moving vehicle, is a likely danger, only 16 percent had used any kind of restraint on their pets.

At present, Hawaii is the only state that restricts drivers from keeping pets in their laps. while driving. Some broader laws in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine restrict activities that can distract a driver, and pets in a vehicle can fall under these activities.

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Category: Automotive, Road safety, Senior citizens

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