When a Dog Causes an Accident

When a Dog Causes an Accident

What happens when a dog causes an accident? Every year, thousands of auto accidents are caused by loose pets in a vehicle. At a moment’s notice, an unrestrained pet can jump or move suddenly, distracting the driver and threatening the normal operation of the vehicle. Car accidents caused by animals can be just as dangerous as any other car crash, so it’s important to avoid distractions while driving by properly restraining your pet in the vehicle.

Are You Distracted by Your Dog?

A recent American Auto Association survey reveals that one in five drivers admit to driving with an unrestrained dog in the car. Many drivers say they are distracted by their dog moving around. Drivers admitted to the following distractions while driving:

  • Allowing the dog to sit in their lap
  • Petting or playing with the dog
  • Giving the dog snacks and treats
  • Holding the dog in place while braking
  • Reaching into the back seat to pet the dog
  • Snapping a photo of the dog

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, taking a driver’s eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the chance of a car accident. An unrestrained dog causes an accident in less than one minute. Although one in five drivers admit to driving with an unrestrained dog, and many acknowledge that they are engaging in risky behaviors that contribute to distracted driving accidents, few drivers take precautions to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.

According to the AAA survey, over 80 percent of drivers admit that they recognize the dangers of driving with an unrestrained pet, but only 16 percent use pet restraints. An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a 50 mph car crash exerts 500 pounds of force. An 80-pound dog in a 30 mph car crash exerts 2,400 pounds of force. Just like small children, a dog can be killed by an inflating airbag, even if the dog is restrained. Dog owners who understand the dangers to their pets and children are three times more likely to use some type of pet harness safety belt, pet travel crate, or car pet barrier while driving.

There are a number of products available on the market that reduce car accidents caused by animals that unrestrained pets cause, and help keep pets and passengers safe. AAA recommends that drivers always use a pet restraint system when traveling with their pets, even when making short trips close to home.

Animal Protection Laws

Laws regarding animal protection vary from state to state. There isn’t one law that applies to transporting animals, but a handful of states do have laws against transporting unrestrained pets in vehicles. Pets can distract or cause injury to the driver, or they may become injured themselves if an animal suddenly appears on the road, the driver slams on the brakes too quickly, or the car is involved in a vehicle crash.

Even when laws don’t state that dogs must be restrained, drivers with unrestrained pets in their laps can be charged under distracted-driving laws. If dogs are transported in the open bed of a truck, they must be secured to prevent them from getting thrown out of the vehicle. In some states, drivers with unrestrained animals can be charged for impeding the safe operation of a motor vehicle. In others, seat belts are required for dogs that are not secured in a crate within a moving vehicle. Transporting a live animal that isn’t restrained in a suitable carrier in some states constitutes cruelty to animals.

In Nevada, there are no laws related to transporting an unrestrained animal in the car, but distracted driving laws are strictly enforced. Any activity that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or mind off driving is considered a distraction. Nevada distracted driving fines are $50 for the first offense in seven years, $100 for the second offense, and $250 for the third and subsequent offenses. The first offense is not treated as a moving violation, but subsequent offenses are. If distracted driving occurs in a work zone, fines can double. Distracted driving activities include:

  • Talking or texting on a cell phone
  • Watching a video
  • Taking selfies or photographs
  • Changing the radio station, CD, or Mp3 player or using a navigation system
  • Eating and drinking
  • Performing other activities that take the driver’s attention from the road

Distracted Driving Is a Real Threat

In 2015, there were 391,000 injuries related to distracted driving accidents, and numbers continue to rise each year. In the U.S., distracted driving accounts for 25 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities. Nine drivers are killed every day as a result of distracted driving.

Although distracted driving accidents can happen to any driver who takes his/her eyes off the road, they are responsible for more than 58 percent of crashes among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19. While the number of drinking and driving fatalities among teens has decreased, the number of fatalities from distracted driving continues to rise.

Distractions relating to having a dog in the car could include simple things like petting the dog and holding the dog in place while braking. Car accidents caused by animals may occur when drivers’ attention is taken from the task of driving, eyes are taken off the road, or hands are taken off the wheel to interact with dogs while behind the wheel. 

When Dogs Cause Accidents

While seeing a dog with its head out the window enjoying the breeze is cute, an unsecured dog could cause distractions, obstructions, or even a heart-breaking projectile. An unrestrained pet can bark, jump, block mirrors, try to move from the back seat to the front, block petals, or even get in the way of the steering wheel. All of these are distracting and are unsafe driving environments that contribute to causing potentially serious or deadly crashes. 

In the event that the dog survives the accident, a scared, unrestrained pet can also bite first responders or other drivers. They may also dart out into traffic, which may cause other drivers to swerve or take actions to avoid striking the animal that could result in further accidents.

Dogs account for 11% of sightings on frequently driven roads. If an unrestrained pet jumps out on the road in front of you, the best response is to remain in your lane while attempting to slow down as quickly as possible. Do your best to avoid the animal, without jeopardizing the safety of your vehicle.

Recovering Damages for Accident Injuries

You may be entitled to receive compensation from the at-fault driver or his or her insurance company. A motor vehicle accident attorney may negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and, if necessary, represent your interests in the courtroom to recover the damages you need and deserve when a dog causes an accident.

Recoverable damages in these types of cases include compensation for associated medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.