Seniors who frequently take their dogs along on drives might want to rethink the habit.
A new study by University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers showed that drivers 70 years or older who always drove with a pet in the car were twice as likely to get in car accidents as those who rarely or never drove with a pet.
The study, published May 2 in "Accident Analysis and Prevention," was the first to examine the effect of pets in the car as a distraction for elderly drivers.
Crash rates for drivers who sometimes or rarely drove with pets were about the same as the rates for drivers who didn't own pets.
"The increased crash rate for elderly drivers who always drive with pets is important in the context of increasing driver awareness about potentially dangerous driving habits," senior study author Gerald McGwin, a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, Ophthalmology and Surgery, said in a press statement. "Adding another distracting element, especially an active, potentially moving animal, provides more opportunity for an older driver to respond to a driving situation in a less than satisfactory way. Regulations in this area might be warranted, particularly if our findings are replicated by others."
Hawaii is the only state that restricts drivers from having a pet in the lap, the study authors noted. Arizona, Connecticut and Maine have broader laws that restrict potentially distracting behavior in the car. Those could apply to pets in the vehicle.
The study authors suggested further research of the effect of pet-related distractions on driving safety.