When the topic of distracted driving comes up, most of us immediately think cell phones. In fact, using cell phones while driving is now being called the new drunk driving, prompting rule makers across the country to address the issue. In Wisconsin, for example, it is illegal to text and drive. It’s also illegal to use a cell phone at all for novice drivers. But what about other distractions in the car—like Fido?
Apparently more than half of all drivers bring their animal companions along for the ride at least monthly, according to a survey from AAA and Kurgo Pet Products. While only 29 percent of those drivers admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving, 65 percent reported participating in at least one distracting behavior while driving with their dog.
We have laws about driving with children to ensure appropriate safety restraints, yet for the thousands of dog owners—many of whom embrace their dogs as family members—do we not have any regulations about driving with our animal companions?
The answer is ‘sort of.’ While Wisconsin has no specific laws concerning driving with animals, general distracted driving laws still apply. Distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes off the road, and it’s behind 20 percent of injury crashes. So if you have your animal in the car when you injure someone in a crash, you could be held liable for both the crash and the resulting injuries.
If you truly love your dog, keep it safe. Don’t ever let it sit in the front of the car in case airbags deploy, and use a proper restraint harness system. That will free you of distractions and help protect your animal if an accident does occur.
In the end, the question shouldn’t be whether it’s legal, but whether it’s safe.
By David Pierce, La Crosse Attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins. To reach him, call 608-784-5678.