Nose up, eyes squinting against the breeze, ears flapping, teeth bared in a gleeful grin — that’s the image of a joyful mutt with its head out a car window.
Of course, this vision generally fails to include eye damage caused by flying debris or being ejected during hard braking.
Pets who insist on riding on drivers’ laps are at risk of being squashed during air bag deployment. And let’s face it — if your mind is on the squirming dog in your lap, you’re a menace to yourself and others.
For the animal’s safety and for responsible driving, it’s best that animals be crated or tethered in a moving vehicle. But in our liberty-loving world, it’s no surprise that a Maine lawmaker faced pushback and ridicule for a proposed bill that would have mandated such restraints.
The Act Concerning the Transporting of Dogs in Passenger Vehicles (no fancy doublespeak there!) was introduced by Rep. James Handy to the Maine legislature on Feb. 16. It forbids motorists from transporting a dog in an open area such as a pickup bed, from allowing a dog in the front seat between the driver and the steering wheel, and from letting a dog stick its head out the window when the car is in motion.
Following social media clamor from pet owners, he hastily killed the bill. Not surprising, since, according to a 2011 survey by pet product maker Kurgo and AAA, more than 83 percent of owners take their pets on the road, but only 16 percent use a restraining device for them.
Handy’s proposal also would have required that dogs be secured by a tether or harness in a manner that would “minimize injury to an occupant or a dog in the event of an accident.”
The latter is a taller order than it may seem. I’ve written before that harnesses, crates and other products that truly protect pets are hard to come by. Check out the crash-test videos and recommendations on the website of the Center for Pet Safety. Harnesses, leashes and crates can break apart, fail and otherwise be useless in protecting pets even in low-speed crashes. I don’t even want to think about the outcome if a pet were secured with a strap attached to a neck collar.
Unfortunately, the harness the Center for Pet Safety recommends is very restrictive. It protects the animal, but keeps it from seeing or doing much while strapped very tightly to the rear seat. Beats becoming a projectile, but I was intrigued to recently come across a rear-facing pet seat option with — get this — inflatable chambers that create an air bag effect.
Called the AirPupSaver (two models accommodate dogs up to 25 pounds or 45 pounds) these beds have been described as “a catcher’s mitt” or a “clamshell” that will fold up and enclose the dog in case of impact. The bed — not cheap at around $150 — is anchored by the vehicle’s shoulder and lap harnesses, and the dog is inserted into a provided harness that clips into the bed. AirPupSaver didn’t get a stellar review by the Center for Pet Safety, but offers a cogent rebuttal on its website.
I’d really like to see automakers put more of their research, development and testing clout behind pet safety. Many of us are more likely to have a four-footed passenger, on any given day, than a human one. Auto manufacturers need to recognize and accommodate this reality, like any other safety issue.
And it’s in their own self-interest, too: A recent Wakefield Research presentation said that by next year, the millennial generation will eclipse baby boomers in spending power, and that young people want pampered, portable pets. With 71 percent of U.S. men, and 62 percent of women ages 18-34 owning canines, according to Mintel research, if I were a car company executive, I’d be sending my designers to the dogs!
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com