When we think of distracted driving, we typically think of cell phones and texting.
But many motorists are driving around with another dangerous distraction in their vehicles, their dogs, the LA Times has reported.
Experts say an unrestrained dog -- whether curled up on a lap, hanging out the window or resting its paws on the steering wheel -- can prove deadly.
"An unrestrained pet can be hugely distracting -- if he is seeking your attention, putting his face right in front of yours, starts chewing up the upholstery or is vomiting because he is carsick," said Katherine Miller, director of applied science and research for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
While states such as Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC) have taken action to make texting while driving unlawful, there are no laws concerning the distractions caused by animals in either state.
In Hawaii, (HI) a driver can be fined if their dog is found sitting in their lap while driving. The state of Oregon (OR) has proposed a similar measure. California proposed legislation but the bill did not make it to law because Governor Schwarzenegger refused to sign it citing more important matters existed.
Distracted driving remains a massive problem in the United States. The death toll has been compared to that of drunken driving. In 2009, 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Cellphones were the top distraction -- the cause of 18 percent of the fatalities and 5 percent of the injury crashes. Although the agency does not track accidents caused by pets, they are counted among other distractions such as disruptive passengers, misbehaving children or drivers who attempt to put on makeup or read.
Distracted driving is the second most common cause of wrecks in North Carolina (NC). Studies have shown texting while driving is 23 times more dangerous than not texting and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared distracted driving is an "epidemic."
Our firm has been concerned about this issue for some time and recently published a consumer report about the dangers of distracted driving, including texting while driving (take advantage of the free download here).