According to the Automobile Association (AA) South Africa, being distracted while driving is a leading cause of accidents. Things that distract drivers include speaking on a cellphone or texting, trying to find fallen items, eating or drinking and trying to attend to a child or pet in the car.
While the safety of pets in a car is not written into law as it is for child passengers, the rules of the road prohibit any person, animal or object preventing the driver from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or being able to signal their intention to stop, slow down or change direction.
As much as we love our animals and want them to be part of the family in every sense, an unrestrained pet in a car can lead to a serious accident and even the loss of your beloved pet, says Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA) chairman Dewald Ranft.
“It is common to see people driving with their dog standing on the front seat with its head out the window, or lying in the back window or – and this does happen – sitting on the driver’s lap. People even travel with unrestrained pet birds and cats.
“An unrestrained pet in a car is irresponsible and the repercussions of that animal getting under your feet or distracting you in some or other way can be dire,” Ranft says.
Things to consider before hitting the road with your pet
1. Ask yourself whether it is necessary to take the pet with and whether this will be in the best interest of the animal and you.
2. How will you keep your pet safely and calmly restrained? There are various harnesses and barrier options for cars. Speak to your specialist pet store or vet and ensure you use the device correctly to ensure maximum efficacy. A harness will not only prevent the animal from distracting you but also keep your pet safe in the event of a sudden stop.
3. If it is the first time you are taking your pet on a long trip, make sure they are used to travelling in a car. Animals are not innately fond of travelling in cars.
4. You may consider pushing through to your holiday destination without a comfort break but your pet cannot. You will need to make regular stops in safe areas for your pet to walk and do its business.
5. Have water in the car for the animal and a few favourite toys and other familiar home comforts.
6. Their vaccinations must be up to date, depending on where you are travelling to. Find out exactly what is required before you leave or your entire trip could be affected.
7. Your pet must have identification in the form of a microchip or collar in case it gets out of its harness while you’re walking it or you are involved in an accident and your pet takes off.
8. Ask a vet to give your pet a clean bill of health before you leave on a long trip. They can advise on things to look out for and ways to put your animal at ease. Keep your vet’s number on your phone but also save the number of the closest vet to where you are holidaying.
“Driver behaviour remains a big concern in South Africa. Apart from speeding and drinking and driving, there are many things people do behind the wheel of a car which they shouldn’t be doing,” Ranft concludes.
“Passengers, whether human or four-legged, should never be the cause of distractions. We concur with the AA that anything that prevents you from having both your hands firmly on the steering wheel should not be done while driving, and this includes giving Fluffy a comforting belly rub,” says Ranft.