Driver’s lap is no place for a pet

Melissa Preddy
Car Culture

When we think of distracted driving, we tend to think of text, not Rex.

But in a new Consumer Pulse survey by AAA, conducted in April ahead of summer road-trip season, half of motorists surveyed said they rarely or never restrain their animal in the car. Their reasons ranged from “pet doesn’t like crate” to “restraints are too complicated” to — get this: “pet prefers to sit in my lap.”

Yes, 22 percent of those furry-friended drivers surveyed say they allow their animal to ride between them and the wheel even while vehicle is in motion. And more than one in 10 says they have taken a picture of their feline or canine while simultaneously piloting their car or truck, while nearly 20 percent have fed or watered pets in motion.

Hmm. Most experts say restraining pets is best for their own safety as well as ours; the scary term “projectile” is often used to describe what can happen to Buster or Beatrice if he or she obeys the laws of physics and keeps moving when the car comes to an abrupt stop.

An earlier AAA fact sheet offers this frightening prospect: “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure.”

Little Prince, the teacup poodle, might look cute standing on his hind legs looking out the window; not so much hurtling through the windshield like a ballistic missile. Let alone Big Prince the German shepherd or Great Dane, flying at you with the force of a compact car.

Despite the free-for-all in the passenger cabin, only 13 percent of these same drivers (the poll was conducted in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky) admit that their pet has ever caused them to drive while distracted. Right.

What to use to secure your pet is another question, and the answer is not always clear. A recent rerun on Canada’s CBC network caught my eye; the “Marketplace” program reported on the failure of many harnesses in crash tests using a doggie dummy. The tests are similar to those done on child car seats and frighteningly, only one harness passed.

You can view the 22-minute video report — with its stunning images of the dummy ricocheting around the car cabin — on the website of The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) ( by clicking the News/Media tab on the main menu.

The website also features a trove of other information including results of the crash tests, which were sponsored by automaker Subaru. The harness recommended by the nonprofit CPS and plans for a 2015 Subaru-sponsored rating of crates and carriers is also on the site.

As to those pets who don’t like to be restrained, improving their seating options can help. Small dogs might appreciate a booster setup so they can see out the windows. Ready-made ones are nice yet pricey; but as usual, Pinterest to the rescue! Google “DIY pet booster” and you’ll find numerous instructions for homemade perches using plastic storage totes, foam blocks, old pillows and other items you may already have around the house.

Laundry baskets, the DIY-ers say, are handy for the same purpose, well-filled with cushions or blankets. Securing the tote to seating with existing seat belts is commonly recommended.

It goes without saying that canine car seats are for comfort, not safety — you still need to rig up the best possible restraint. But if Emmy or Taffy is comfy and calm, you won’t be as tempted to indulge her urge to ride free.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via