We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Pets a dangerous distraction for drivers

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist August 12, 2011

It’s vital that pets are properly restrained when riding in vehicles, both for their own safety and yours.

The other day I saw a driver attempt to make a left turn with a small dog sitting on his shoulder. There was no way on earth that he was able to make a proper shoulder check prior to the turn. The animal also obstructed the driver’s vision to the left side of the vehicle. The absolute stupidity of some drivers, who persist in using their pets as some sort of co-pilot, amazes me.

A few blocks later, I had turned the corner at the intersection. A guy was driving down a four-lane roadway with a very large dog on his lap. The dog was actually staring ahead at the road more intently than the driver of the vehicle.

There have been some sensational situations caused by improper pet constraints in vehicles. The most ridiculous pet hazard in a vehicle was described to me by a highway patrol officer. It did not involve a dog but a cat. A driver was reported speeding on a major highway in B.C. The RCMP responded. When the constable attempted to pull the offending speeder over to the side of the road, there was no response. The constable used the emergency lights and siren to alert the speeder, but still there was no response. He finally pulled alongside to observe a very distraught female driver motioning to him in a very frantic fashion. Eventually, the car pulled to the side of the road several kilometres from the first contact made by the constable.

When the officer approached the car, the driver explained the situation. Her cat had lodged itself under the brake pedal and refused to move. She did not want to brake for fear of injuring her pet. She became fixated on the cat to the expense of all other realities. She froze on the accelerator and was incapacitated for several minutes before she realized that squirting the cat with water would dislodge it – and so it did.

The constable explained that shifting to neutral would have been another procedure to remedy the situation. To this day, I am not sure whether she got a ticket or not. Responsible pet owners always protect themselves and their pets by providing a safe place for them in a vehicle. It is important to restrict the movement of any pet in a vehicle. All pets should be caged or otherwise limited by a physical barrier within the confines of a car or truck. The laws governing the transportation of pets vary from one jurisdiction to the next. Common sense should be enough to govern and guide the behaviour of responsible drivers transporting pets, but sadly it is not always so.

Every province and territory has legislation governing the act of driving while distracted. Police have every right and duty to charge people who insist upon treating a pet like some sort of navigator, instead of a well-cared-for animal. A significant penalty, such as driving without due care and attention, could and should be applied when there are examples of flagrant disregard for pet safety in vehicles.

Unrestrained pets can be severely injured or killed in a crash. The distraction they initiate may well be the cause of human tragedy, even death in a resulting crash.

It is the responsibility of every driver transporting an animal in a car to do it in a safe manner. The SPCA gives good advice about proper pet restraints. Pet stores sell appropriate equipment for the protection of pets while travelling.

For everyone’s sake, secure your pet and people will be grateful for the prudent behaviour.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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