Pets pose a distracted driving threat for seniors

Initiatives to limit distracted driving have focused largely on electronic devices. More than 30 states (including New Jersey) have enacted laws banning texting while driving. Some states now require drivers to use hands-free devices when using cell phones behind the wheel, and others prohibit teens from using placing calls while driving.

However, distracted driving does not end with cell phones (or with teen drivers). According to a new study, pets may be equally as distracting to senior drivers.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) found that seniors who take their pets in the car are twice as likely to be involved in an accident compared to other drivers who do not. The study is being billed as the first of its kind, and is meant to bring more awareness to dangerous driving habits.

The study acknowledges that no direct evidence exists indicating that driving with pets is a threat to public safety, but distracted driving (either by texting, eating or responding to children) could increase the chances of being in an accident. With seniors having slower cognitive and physical responses, having an animal in the car (as a distracting element) increases the risk of an accident.

The study is an important reminder of the legal duty that teens and seniors alike have in using reasonable care when behind the wheel. Having a pet in the car that serves as a distraction could be viewed as a breach of that duty. If an accident occurs due to such a distraction, the driver could be held liable for the ensuing damages and injuries.

Source:, Seniors driving with their dogs get in more auto accidents: University study, May 7, 2013

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