April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  In 2009, about 28 percent of all car crashes were caused by driver distraction.  This month, much of the focus will be on cell phone use and texting while driving.  But, electronic devices aren't the only distractions.  In fact, the family pet may also cause a Kansas distracted driving accident.
In a recent survey, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 80 percent of those surveyed had driven with their pets.  However, only 17 percent said they used any form of pet restraint system.  Unrestrained pets are free to move around the passenger cabin and may become a distraction that is just as likely to cause a crash as a cell phone.
Our accident lawyers in Overland Park, KS offer these tips to keep you and your pet safe while driving:
Never let your dog ride in your lap or in the front seat.  Think of your dog as a child.  Your dog experiences the same risk of injury from deploying airbags.
Restrain your pet. This is our most important tip for several reasons:
1. If you know where your pet is, you are less likely to be distracted. When your pet is restrained, you don't have to worry that he is climbing the upholstery, chewing your purse, or barking out the window.  You can concentrate on driving.  
2. If your pet is thrown in an accident, he may become a dangerous projectile.  In a 30 m.p.h. crash a 25 pound dog can hit with 750 pounds of force.  This puts both your pet and your passengers at risk of serious injury.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(ASPCA) recommends several types of pet restraints:
1. Safety Barriers
2. Harnesses
3. Dog booster seats
4. Pet carriers
Safety Barriers:
Safety barriers allow your dog free access to the trunk or back seat , but keep your pet from being thrown in an accident or from wandering around the car.  There are two types of safety barriers:
1. Metal or plastic bars that fir between the trunk and rear seat
2. Netting, fabric or plastic barriers between the rear seat and passenger seat.
The cost will depend on the make and model of your car.
Pet harnesses: Pet harnesses are seat belt systems for dogs.  They ensure that the dog stays in one place while in the car and prevent the dog from hitting the interior of your vehicle if there's a sudden stop. Pet harnesses should be matched to the size of the dog.
Dog booster seats:
  Booster seats provide a comfortable seat for the dog that works with the vehicle's safety belt.  However, booster seats are only available for dogs up to 40 pounds. 
Pet carriers: Pet carriers may have hard shells or they may soft-sided. If you are using a pet carrier, make sure it is the right size.  If the carrier is too small, the pet will be uncomfortable.  If the carrier is too large, your pet may be bounced around and injured.  Secure the pet carrier, so it doesn't fly in the event of an accident or sudden stop.
Your pet is a valued member of your family, so protect your pet's safety.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.