Can Pets in the Car Cause Distracted Driving?

Denver Attorneys Serving Cherry Creek, Aurora and Communities Throughout Colorado

Woman Driving Distracted While Looking at Her DogWe’ve all seen it – maybe some of us are even guilty of it – a dog’s head pops out of the driver-side window. “Can this person see?” We may think. “What happens if that animal loses its balance?” We may begin to ponder. “This is irresponsible!” We may even indignantly proclaim.

And indeed it is irresponsible. But so too is having any unrestrained pet in the car, regardless of its current location in the vehicle.

Pets that can move about the cabin of a vehicle pose a risk to everyone on the road. Animals can spook, even those we know and trust, and one wrong maneuver can result in movements a driver wasn't anticipating – movements that can allow a driver to lose control of his or her car and cause a serious or fatal car accident.

Here’s the rub: paying attention to those movements may allow a driver to avoid hitting another vehicle directly related to those movements, but paying attention to those movements while driving is the textbook definition of distracted driving. Distracted driving increases the chance of hitting another vehicle two to three times over, negating any risk reduction gained by working to retrain or control the animal.

If a pet is not in a carrier or otherwise restrained in a vehicle, that driver is either driving recklessly or distracted. Maybe even both.

Like Driving Blindfolded Down a Football Field

In 2018, 4,637 people died in car accident linked to cellphone use alone. Cellphone use is one of the most common forms of distraction and among the most deadly. This is because cellphone use involves all three types of distraction:

  • Visual
  • Manual
  • Cognitive

Cellphone use while driving has been likened to driving at 50 MPH down the length of a football field while blindfolded. A driver takes his or her eyes off of the road to look at a phone (visual), uses their fingers to manipulate it (manual), and their brain-power to text, type, or do whatever it is that they found more compelling than driving safely (cognitive). These exact same forms of distraction are present when an unrestrained animal is in the car.

If a pet moves unexpectedly (or even expectedly) a driver may be inclined to look at the pet (visual), then to try to comfort or restrain it (manual), all while thinking about what the pet is doing and how on earth to contain it (cognitive). Clearly, none of these things are conducive to safely operating a vehicle.

Restraints May Not be Enough

It is 100% safer to restrain pets with a seatbelt tether or harness, or to create pets before moving them. That does not mean it is 100% safe. Distractions can still arise, for example, if a driver chooses to tend to their animal instead of the task of driving. Distraction can occur if a restraint is not used apprioproately or a crate shifts or falls.

Remember, when a person is driving, their only responsibility is to drive. If other things inside of the car need attention, their responsibility is to pull over and deal with it then. When a driver fails to deal appropriately with their distractions and ends up hurting someone else as a result, they can be held liable for any damages that ensue. If you have been injured by a distracted driver, Leventhal Sar LLC can help.

If you live in or around Denver and have been injured by a distracted driver, please call Leventhal Sar LLC at 720-667-3030 to schedule a consultation right away. We serve victims of serious injury living in Metro Denver, along the I-25 Corridor, and throughout the Front Range.