Safety First

Study: Unrestrained pets cause heart rate spikes, increase likelihood of a fatal car crash

We now know how much of a distraction unrestrained pets cause, thanks to a new study from The Harris Poll and Volvo Car USA.

Photo by Getty Images

Fido may love to hold his head out the window and sniff every passing car and yard as you drive by, but this is not safe for you, him, or anyone else on the road. A new study provides quantifiable proof of the hazards of driving with an unrestrained pet.

Volvo Car USA and The Harris Poll conducted an online survey in March 2019 and an observational study from June-July 2019 to assess the impact of unrestrained pets – pets not restrained with a seat belt or harness or in a crate or carrier while in a moving vehicle. For the study, 15 licensed drivers who each drive with their dog at least 25 minutes per day were observed for an average of 2 hours each, for a total of about 30 hours of total study time.

Restrainted Pets seat belt safety harness Pets that were restrained while in the car proved less of a hazard to drivers, the study found.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

The dogs were restrained for 56 percent of the time and unrestrained the rest of the time.

The results of the survey and study were published in Volvo Reports: Keeping Pets Safe on the Road. The study found three reasons why not restraining your pet is detrimental.

It increases unsafe driving behaviors.

During the half of the study when the dogs were restrained, 16 hours 48 minutes, there were 274 instances of the dogs doing something unsafe such as putting their head out the window or climbing on the driver's lap. This comes out to an average of 16.3 instances of unsafe driving behavior per hour – about once every 3.5 minutes.

For 13 hours 12 minutes of observation time the dogs were unrestrained and racked up 649 instances of the dogs doing something unsafe – an average of 49.2 instances of unsafe driving behavior per hour, nearly once every 1.2 minutes.

This showed that unrestrained dogs were three times more likely to exhibit unsafe behaviors than restrained dogs while riding in a vehicle.

It increases driver distraction.

When not restrained, dogs can do things such as jumping from one seat to another, which often results in the driver focusing on their pet and not the road. Unrestrained dogs resulted in 3 hours 39 minutes of distracted driving over the course of the 13 hours 12 minutes (27.7% of the time).

Restraining dogs cut distracted driving to 1 hour 39 minutes over the course of the 16.8 hours (9.8% of the time).

The results indicated that drivers whose pets are unrestrained are 2.8 times more likely to be distracted are drivers whose pets are restrained.

Unrestrained pets Unrestrained pets cause a major distracted driving hazard, a new study has revealed.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

According to the National Highway Transportation Administration 3,000 people die each year from distracted driving. Erie Insurance, in conjunction with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, analyzed 2010 and 2011 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) crash data and found that a moving object (such as a pet) is one of the top ten distractions involved in fatal car crashes.

It increases stress on dogs and drivers.

According to the website Dogtime: "Puppies can have resting pulse rates of 160 to 200 beats per minute when they are born, which can go as high as 220 beats per minute at two weeks of age. Up to 180 beats per minute may be normal until a year of age. Large adult dogs can have a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute, while small adult dogs can have a normal heart rate of 100 to 140 beats per minute."

When not restrained, dogs' heart rates were faster than their normal heart rates by 7 beats per minute. This may not seem like much, especially for puppies who already have high resting pulse rates, but why add stress to your pet unnecessarily?

Likewise, drivers were also more stressed when their dogs were not restrained. The average human heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. When their dogs were not restrained, the drivers' heart rates increased by 28-34 per minute, as much as 1.5 times higher than normal.

Unrestrainted pets Volvo is one of the auto manufacturers now offering pet-specific restraint systems that can be purchased with and installed in a new vehicle.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

In a press release, Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, Staff Criticalist at Cornell University Veterinary Specialists, urges the importance of restraining your pets in the car.

"While pets roaming around the car can be cute and convenient, it poses a serious risk for both drivers and their pets, both in terms of causing distractions and increasing the chances of serious injury in the event of an accident. Unfortunately, in my field, we see the potential devastating consequences regularly, many of which can [be] avoided by simply ensuring our animals are safely secured."

The Volvo Car USA/The Harris Poll report found that "32% of pet owners have left a dog at home because they felt their car was not safe enough" and "77% of Americans says people don't vehicular dog safety seriously enough".

Lindsey Wolko took her pet's safety in the car seriously – she bought her dog Maggie a safety harness. Maggie was wearing this safety harness when Wolko was driving and had to brake suddenly, but the harness didn't work properly and Maggie was injured. Through this experience, Wolko was inspired to found The Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization, in July 2011.

Volvo pet safety rear carrier Volvo's pet safety system is mounted directly to the frame of the vehicle giving it a high level of structural integrity.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

CPS crash tests pet car safety restraints. Restraints which meet CPS's standards are approved as CPS Certified. CPS has only third-party restraints on its list, yet some vehicle manufacturers are also creating pet car safety restraints.

Volvo has a line of pet safety accessories which includes a dog gate, dog harness, load compartment divider, and protective steel grille. These accessories integrate into the car's safety system. For each one of these accessories sold, Volvo donates $10 to The Petfinder Foundation, which promotes pet adoption.

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Interesting backstory

Volkswagen Bus part inspired popular dog toy

The classic VW Bus inspired one of the most popular dog toys of all time.

Volkswagen

Product designs sometimes take inspiration from the places we expect the least. Moments of genius are driven by finding solutions to unique problems, and as it turns out, that's exactly how we ended up with KONG. The beefy, durable dog chew toy is modeled after a Volkswagen Bus part.

Joe Markham's shop Markham needed a dog for security, but he unexpectedly got a chew-crazy pet.Volkswagen

KONG's inventor, Joe Markham, adopted a German Shepherd to help with security at his auto repair shop in downtown Denver, CO. The dog, while a great addition to the shop, came with a few bad habits. The dog's most worrisome hobby was chewing, which he would do with almost anything he could find, especially rocks. As you might imagine, chewing on rocks is not good for the dog's teeth. Markham needed a durable chew toy, but nothing seemed to work, from animal bones to radiator hoses.

The solution came from an unlikely place: While working on a 1960sVW Type 2 Bus, Markham discovered that the rubber axle stop made a perfect chew toy. The dog had gotten ahold of the rubber stop, and while he was chewing viciously, neither the stop nor his teeth were damaged.

The discovery led Markham to spend the next six years experimenting with various rubbers, sizes, and shapes for his dog toy. After working with rubber experts in Germany, the design was finalized and the KONG was born. The shape for the toy ended up being very close to that of the axle stop. The funky, bulbous design meant that the toy wouldn't bounce like a ball, and would instead flop around randomly, which is similar to the way that small animals run away from predators.

VW Bus axle stop The axle stop from a VW Bus inspired KONG's shape.Volkswagen

It's worth noting that you should not intentionally let your dog chew on any part of your vehicle. Even unused automotive parts can contain chemicals and other harmful materials that could make your dog sick or worse. This isn't a pitch to buy a KONG, just a warning about the hazards of car parts being used as dog toys.

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Highway safety

U.S. roadway fatalities up in 2021

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Photo coursesy of Ford Motor Company

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released its estimates on traffic fatalities for the first quarter of 2021 and the numbers aren't promising. In the first quarter of this year alone, 8,730 people died in motor vehicle crashes. Last year's cumulative numbers weren't much better, coming in higher than any year since 2007.


U.S. Roadways Traffic may be going up, but fuel fill ups are down according to the latest research automotivemap.com


The grim statistics represent a 10.5 percent increase from the same time period last year, a time when we were already marveling at the numbers. Further data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicate that the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by 2.1 percent, which makes the increase in fatalities all the more striking a statistic. Initial projections pegged the number of fatalities per 100 million VMT at 1.12, but it instead climbed to 1.26 fatalities per 100 million VMT.

Regionally, most areas in the United Statessaw an increase, though two did not. The Midwest region, which includes Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas did not change, while the mid-east coast states of North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia actually saw a six percent decline in fatality counts.


Highway 1 big sur Highway 1 near Big Sur includes the Bixby Creek Bridge, a famous landmark. Photo by\u00a0Getty Images


What's behind all of this? Last year, the NHTSA reported that, with fewer people on the roads, those that were driving were engaging in risky behavior. What's more, Automotive News reports, that the number of deaths involving people not wearing seatbelts increased 15 percent last year and speeding deaths climbed 10 percent.

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