We've all seen it - someone holding a dog in their lap while driving down the road. In some cases, it is even the driver. It's one thing to take your own life in your hands, but why put Fido at risk of instant death? If an airbag deploys, it will crush the animal against your face or chest. I can't be more explicit than that.
Airbags are designed to deploy in a fraction of a second after a collision. Sensors tell them the distance of the seat relative to the dash, the position of the occupant and whether or not they are wearing their belt. The goal is for the bag to fully deploy to maximum size before the occupant's upper body rushes forward toward the dash or wheel, throwing up a big pillow to protect their chest and head. It works incredibly well, saving thousands of lives and preventing tens of thousands of injuries every year.
But no system has been developed to recognize that there is a dog in the way. While I refer to the airbag as having a pillow-like effect, that is only because it is designed to deflate as quickly as it inflates - shrinking a millisecond after it has reached maximum size and contact has been made with it. Until that moment, the bag is inflating at high speed. Anything in the way will be hit with massive force more powerful than the biggest, most powerful heavyweight boxer's punch.
Pet lovers enjoy the companionship and proximity of their furry friend. The close confines of a vehicle seems to provide the perfect opportunity to enjoy that relationship. It's easy to think that since you are only going to the corner store, on an errand or a similar short trip, a crash is not likely. Actually, the reverse is true, the majority of crashes resulting in airbag deployment happen in urban areas at low speeds. Most are non life-threatening - unless there is a dog in the path of the airbag.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) recently released the results of a study that found one in five American drivers drive with a dog in their lap. The survey, partially funded by Kurgo, makers of pet restraint system, showed not only that a lot of people take their dogs with them in the front seat, they commonly engage in risky behaviour when the pet is present.
The survey found that 80 per cent of respondents have driven with their pets but only 17 per cent use any form of pet restraint. AAA says 31 per cent of respondents admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving, but 59 per cent say they have participated in at least one distracting behaviour while driving with their dog: 55 per cent say they pet the animal, 21 per cent allow it to sit in their lap, many give it food or water while driving and some admit to playing with it.
Pet owners who drive with them in their laps are obviously unaware of the airbag issue. They probably feel they can hold onto Fido in a crash. Wrong. A spokesperson for AAA's National Traffic Safety programs says an unrestrained 4.5 kilo dog in an 80 km/h crash will weigh the equivalent of 225 kilograms, while an unrestrained 36-kilo dog in a crash at only 48 km/h will effectively weigh almost 1,100 kilograms.
There are laws to ensure people protect their children while driving and engineered products to provide that protection. There are also reasonably-priced restraints available for pets to prevent them from being crushed by an airbag or thrown about like a projectile in crash.
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