Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say that senior drivers who always take their dog in the car are at an increased risk of being involved in an accident.
Overall and at-fault crash rates for drivers 70 years of age or older were higher for those whose pet habitually rode with them.
“This is the first study to evaluate the presence of pets in a vehicle as a potential internal distraction for elderly drivers,” said Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, Ophthalmology and Surgery and senior author of the study. “The increased crash rate for elderly drivers who always drive with pets is important in the context of increasing driver awareness about potentially dangerous driving habits.”
The crash risk for drivers who always drove with their pets was double that of drivers who never drove with a pet, while crash rates for those who sometimes or rarely drove with pets were consistent with the rates for non-pet owners.
The study involved 2,000 community-dwelling (those who do not live in assisted living or nursing homes) licensed drivers age 70 and older, of whom 691 had pets. Study subjects took a survey on driving habits, and those with pets were asked about the frequency of driving with pets. Participants also underwent visual sensory and higher-order visual processing testing.
More than half the pet owners said they took their pet with them in the car at least occasionally, usually riding on the front passenger seat or in the back seat.
“That is consistent with previous studies looking at all drivers, which indicate that slightly more than half of all drivers take a pet with them at times,” said McGwin. “And it’s interesting to note that earlier surveys indicate that 83 percent of those surveyed agreed that an unrestrained dog was likely dangerous in a moving vehicle, yet only 16 percent have ever used any type of restraint on their own pet.”
I’d really like to see a study comparing accident rates with properly restrained pets and those without. I support the use of safety harnesses for dogs who are traveling in cars and am consistently amazed at the number of people who allow their dog in the car without restraint.
The research team has published its research in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.