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Nov/Dec 2010 Issue

Pets can be a distraction for drivers

Millions of Americans recognize that dogs are wonderful companions and bring their favorite furry friend along on road trips and day-to-day errands, but in a vehicle this can mean added distractions for the driver.

In a survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo, a retailer of pet travel products, one out of three dog-owning drivers admitted to being distracted by Fido. Nearly 60 percent of drivers confessed to engaging in at least one distracting behavior with their dog, such as giving food and water to their dog (7 percent) or petting their dog (55 percent). One in five drivers allowed their dog to sit in their lap.

While pet restraint systems can help reduce pet distractions and protect passengers and furry friends, the survey found only 17 percent of motorists use such systems.

“An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure,” cautioned Jennifer Huebner, AAA National Traffic Safety Programs manager.

AAA recommends owners use a restraint system anytime they are driving with their pet. Kurgo and other retailers have made them more comfortable and convenient to use.

Louisiana toughens cell phone laws that ban texting for all drivers, talking for teens

As more research reveals the proliferation and dangers of distracted driving, including cell phone use, Louisiana has toughened its texting ban for all motorists and its ban on any kind of cell phone use for younger teen drivers.

Louisiana already had laws prohibiting all motorists from texting and banning drivers 17 and under from talking on a cell phone. But the laws were secondary in nature, meaning that officers could only ticket motorists for those offenses if they pulled them over for a primary offense, like speeding.

But starting late this summer, changes went into effect making those infractions a primary offense, so officers can pull over any driver they see texting and any novice driver they notice on the phone. The fine is $175 for the first offense and $500 for any that follow, and those fines are doubled if the driver also causes a crash.

“Studies show that distracted driving is one of the biggest problems on the highway today causing crashes,” said Sgt. Markus Smith of the Louisiana State Police, noting that cell phone use is the top distraction behind the wheel.

Legislators recognized that the previous law lacked teeth. To improve highway safety by limiting distractions, they had to allow officers to pull over motorists for those infractions.

“If somebody was texting, they could literally hold up their phone and show us they were texting, and we couldn’t do anything about it. We were really powerless unless they committed some other type of offense,” Smith said. “Now we have a greater ability to enforce the law.”

To date, 30 states have laws banning texting behind the wheel, including Arkansas. Novice drivers are banned from texting in Mississippi, where lawmakers debated a bill last year to extend the ban to all drivers but it didn’t pass.

Teen drivers under 18 also are banned from using cell phones for talking in Arkansas, but there is no such restriction on teen drivers in Mississippi.

While teen drivers know actions like texting while driving are dangerous, the majority of teens engage in distracted driving behaviors anyway, according to a study by AAA and Seventeen magazine. In the survey, 60 percent of teens admitted to having talked on a cell phone while driving, and the teens who text while driving sent, on average, 23 text messages from behind the wheel in the past month.

“Teens think they’re able to multitask, but taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your crash risk,” said Mike Right, vice president of AAA Public Affairs.

Deaths on the highway drop significantly

Highway deaths fell to 33,808 last year, the lowest number since 1950, even as the estimated number of vehicle miles traveled rose.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has reported that 2009 saw the lowest fatality and injury rates ever recorded at 1.13 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to 1.26 deaths in 2008. Fatalities declined in all categories of vehicles including motorcycles, which saw deaths fall by 850 from 2008, breaking an 11-year cycle of increases.

The 9.7-percent decrease in fatalities is notable because it occurred at the same time as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose by .2 percent. Declines in traffic deaths in 2007 and 2008 were attributed in large part to reductions in VMT. The latest drop indicates that other factors played a role, including vehicle safety improvements, law enforcement efforts, infrastructure enhancements and changes in driver behavior.

In all, 41 states reported decreases, including Arkansas (14 percent), Louisiana (10 percent) and Mississippi (11 percent).

pet in car

One in five drivers admit to allowing their dog to drive on their lap.

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