CHICAGO — Safety experts have a new pet peeve related to distracted driving.
In addition to texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, lap dogs and other pets left unrestrained inside moving vehicles pose a major distraction that could be deadly, a study released Wednesday warns motorists.
About two-thirds of dog owners surveyed by AAA said they routinely drive while petting or playing with their dogs, sometimes even giving them food or water.
It has been a common sight for many years to see dogs hanging their heads out of open car windows with their ears flapping in the breeze. But in the cocoon that the automobile has become, more drivers are nonchalantly cradling their dogs atop their laps or perching the animals on their chests with the pet's front paws clutching the driver's neck or shoulders.
It's risky behavior for the driver and dangerous for the pets, too.
An 80-pound dog unrestrained during a crash at 30 mph exerts 2,400 pounds of force in a vehicle, according to Motivation Design LLC, a company that manufactures pet travel products, including restraint systems for pets, under the brand name Kurgo.
Dogs inside wrecked vehicles often become territorial and protective of their owners when police and emergency-responders try to rescue injured occupants, sometimes leaving authorities no other option than to shoot the animal in order to help the driver and passengers, said Illinois State Police troopers who have been dispatched to such accident scenes.