Do you drive around with your pet dog unrestrained in the passenger seat? Well, if you do, not only are you putting increased stress on your canine friend, but you’re also increasing the chances of an accident considerably more than when the pet is properly harnessed. While this might seem obvious to most of us, the extent to which an unrestrained pet can distract a driver is surprisingly greater than you would imagine, as highlighted by a recent study. The study, conducted by Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll agency, reveals that allowing pets to roam unrestrained while driving led to significantly more unsafe driving behaviors, more time distracted and increased stress on both drivers and their four-legged companions.

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The report titled ‘Keeping Pets Safe on the Road’ has been published after a team followed 15 drivers and their dogs for more than 30 hours on the road, to study how driving with an unrestrained pet affected their driving behavior in comparison with when an owner used restraints such as pet seat belts, harnesses, crates, and carriers. The study found that when pets were allowed to roam freely, unsafe driving behaviors more than doubled to 649 instances versus 274 while restrained. So did the time drivers were distracted, from 1 hr. 39 min to 3 hr. 39 min. These distractions were mainly caused by dogs climbing on a driver’s lap or hanging their head out the window, or jumping from seat to seat, causing the driver to take his or her eyes off the road. The study also found that having unrestrained pets in the car increased stress on both drivers and pups, with unrestrained dogs measuring a heart rate 7 beats per minute faster than when they are buckled up, and drivers feeling calmer when dogs were restrained, with heart rates dropping by as much as 34 beats per minute.

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“While pets roaming around the car can be cute and convenient, it poses serious risk for both drivers and their pets, both in terms of causing distractions and increasing the chances of serious injury in the event of an accident,” says veterinarian Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, Staff Criticalist, Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, an expert in emergency and critical care of animals. “Unfortunately, in my field, we see the potential devastating consequences regularly, many of which can avoided by simply ensuring our animals are safely secured,” she adds.

The observational study was conducted from June 26 to July 22, 2019, among 15 licensed drivers who drive with their dog for a minimum of 25 minutes per day. The drivers were analyzed for a total of approximately 15 hours, an average of 2 hours per driver.