While there aren't any definite statistics on actual accident rates involving pets and car accidents, the fact remains that they can put you at serious risk. Currently, pet related accidents are merely lumped into the distracted driving category along with swatting an insect or reaching for a coffee.
At this point in time, Hawaii is the only state to implement an outright ban on driving with your pet in your lap, claiming that pets interfere with a driver's ability to maintain control of the vehicle. Two years ago, governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a law passed by legislature that would fine drivers for having a pet in their lap. His reasoning was that he was only focused on passing laws that met California's top priorities at the time. Similar legistlation was shot down in Virginia. As a Personal Injury Attorney Seattle, I think that anything that can potentially decrease car accident rates should be a priority.
However, the risk doesn't just lie in pets initiating an accident by distracting the driver. Pets also pose a serious risk of injury in the event of a car crash, particularly when they're unrestrained in the vehicle. For instance, in a mere 35mph accident, a 60lb dog hurling through the air carries the same force as a 2,700 pound projectile which can result in catastrophic injuries.
Often times, when pets are involved in an accident, they will be extremely stressed, traumatized and disoriented. And if they're injured, they'll be even more likely to lash out or bite a rescue worker. This can interfere with the workers ability to get to you and provide aid after an accident. Animals are also at a higher risk of injury or being thrown from a vehicle in the event of even a minor crash.
At the Law Offices of Kirk Bernard, we see many accidents caused by distracted driving. If you're in the habit of driving with your pet in your car, we recommend restraining it in a carrier to protect yourself from an accident. You can read the full article from the NY Times Blog here.