Stopped at a red light, I turn to my right and catch a glimpse of the occupants in the adjacent car. There are two of them. The driver is a middle-aged woman with a glazed expression on her face; her lips drawn into a taut grin, her teeth the colour of brushed concrete. A small dog sits on her lap peering through the steering wheel. It could be a terrier. It's tough to tell.
Though outwardly content, there is a tangible unease simmering beneath the canine's furry exterior. What had this dog done in its previous life to deserve such a fate? Investment banking? Tech support? Mass murder? Imagine being a mutt and finding yourself stuck in a co-dependent relationship that involves "helping" your "mommy" drive her car? Usually such creatures are forced to wear colourful hand-knitted vests. This one, at least, has been spared.
A pickup without pretensions
It's time to pause and savour the stupidity. Here is a person so dim that she thinks it's a good idea to place a live dog on her lap and go for a drive (a not-living dog would also be a distraction). She is an awe-inspiring monument epitomizing the many shades of dumb that will eventually lead our species to extinction. The light changes and off she goes.
"Adieu and safe journey my animal-loving friend," I say in a whisper as she pulls away. "It's people like you who make writing a column about driving worthwhile."
It's a special moment, to be sure, but hardly a rare one. Pet owners love bringing their furry friends everywhere and that means loading them into the car. So far, so okay. But what goes through the mind of a driver as he or she places a small animal on his or her groin? Even dogs know dogs don't belong there. Driving a car with a dog (or cat) on your lap (or anywhere in your lap vicinity) is a very, very stupid thing to do. Are these folks so psychologically dependent on their pets that they cannot bear to be separated from them? Even the back seat is too far away? Do these animal lovers think, "Hey, I'm just about to drive an automobile, to navigate roads and highways at high speeds in a rolling hunk of steel; maybe if I put a small mammal on my lap that will help things out?"
Picture the exchange between man's best friend and his emotionally crippled driver/owner.
Dog: "WTF? Why am I in the front seat? Does my owner not know dogs don't belong in the front seat of an automobile?"
Driver: (mouthing the sounds) "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K …"
Dog: "If I had opposable thumbs I would grab the wheel, put paw to pedal, and pull a Thelma and Louise right off a cliff."
Driver: "L, M, N…N…N…N…"
Still, if basic common sense is not enough for you and you're the kind of person who is instantly hypnotized by the words "statistics show," "experts believe" or "survey says" a new study has been released that shows empirically pets should not roam free inside automobiles. The survey of 1,000 Yankee Doodle dog owners was conducted for the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the pet-restraint maker Kurgo. It revealed that pets are a frequent driving distraction. Two-thirds of those questioned copped to having their attention diverted by their dogs. Half said they had petted their dogs while driving with 20 per cent admitting they kept dogs lap-side when driving. Seven per cent claimed they fed their dogs while motoring and 5 per cent said they played with their dogs. Dog owners probably do a lot of other even more unseemly things but they weren't asked about those.
If you think having a pet in the backseat is okay, think again. According to Beth Mosher, AAA director of public affairs, an "unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle in its path." The AAA suggests putting your animal in some kind of restraint. The doggie version of light bondage gear, I suppose. Some car companies offer built-in dog accessories. The Honda Element, for instance, comes with a "Dog-Friendly" package.
Personally, I find it tough to imagine cooking up a canine safe word and "restraining" a dog in the backseat. It seems evil. A dog in the backseat, its head out the window, jowls flapping in the breeze, slobber staining the glass, is a happy dog. Even someone as awful as I am can't imagine taking away that kind of pure joy. And, after all, what's endangering yourself and others when a dog's happiness is at stake?
How much does that new car cost?