The FINANCIAL -- Northwesterners are known for their love of furry companions, but the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance finds that Washington residents think pet passengers pose a greater distraction for drivers than kids in the car.
Still, about half of drivers across the Northwest admit they've driven with unrestrained animals, which can have serious consequences for pets, owners and fellow drivers alike.
The PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll finds that 43 percent of drivers in Washington think it's more distracting to drive with barking, licking and tail-chasing pets than it is to commute with rambunctious kids. That's compared to about one-third of respondents (34 percent) who think children are the greater distraction. The same sentiment isn't true in Oregon – drivers there find kids and fur babies equally distracting.
Nevertheless, about half of Northwest drivers (52 percent) admit they've driven with an unrestrained pet in the car at some point, and about a third (34 percent) say they've allowed a pet to roam the vehicle freely or even sit on their lap while driving.
"There's no question we love our pets here in the Northwest. That's why we were surprised to learn that so many Northwest drivers put themselves and their four-legged friends at risk by driving with unrestrained pets in the car," said PEMCO spokesperson Derek Wing.
Unlike talking on a cellphone, driving with an unrestrained pet isn't a primary offense in the Northwest, but the consequences of distraction are surely heightened when fur balls freely roam – pets and drivers are at risk of injury or worse if animals are unrestrained in an accident.
"In a 30-mile-per-hour crash, a 60-pound dog can slam into you with 2,700 pounds of force – enough to cause severe damage to you and your precious pet. So just like humans, pets need their own special seat belts and other protections to keep everyone as safe as possible on the road," Wing added.
PEMCO recommends following these tips to keep pets and drivers safe when hitting the road:
Restrain your pet. A well-ventilated carrier that's buckled-in prevents injury to drivers, passengers, and pets. A dog safety harness that attaches to a vehicle's rear seat belt is another safe solution.
The backseat is best. Because pets face the same front-seat injury dangers as a small child, pets are safest in the back seat - especially when using a harness.
Keep heads inside the vehicle. Feeling the wind in their fur can come at a high cost – not only can pets suffer injuries from flying road debris (even insects can seriously wound a dog's eyes), they can develop respiratory trouble from forcing cold air into their lungs.
No riding in pickup beds. While it may be legal in some areas, it's still a bad idea. In a serious crash, even a crated dog has minimal protection.
Talk to a vet. A veterinarian may be able to suggest ways to ease the trip for any beloved cats or loyal dogs who aren't happy travelers.