Last week, I was driving home from work when the car ahead of me began to drift into the passing lane. I watched as the blue sedan's brake lights flickered before swerving back to the right only to drift again over the yellow line, resulting in an angry horn blare from the red pickup passing on the left.
I put some distance between us and cautiously began to pass, preparing to flash a disapproving glare to a teenager texting in the driver's seat, but what I saw instead was a middle-aged man with a happy, bouncy terrier-mix in his lap trying desperately to shove his nose though the cracked window.
Over the last few years, we've been increasingly inundated with warnings and public service campaigns about cell phone use while driving, which has cost far too many lives and forced 42 states to develop laws against it. But your phone is just one of many driving distractions that can dangerously interfere with safety on the road.
Scarfing down a quick bite to eat, applying makeup, and yes, as innocent as it seems and as happy as it makes your pup, driving with a dog in your lap is an irresponsible and dangerous driving distraction.
So far, only two states, Hawaii and New Jersey have taken notice of the problem and enacted laws against it to reduce the danger. But even in states where there is no specific law banning driving with a pet on your lap, depending on the state, drivers could still be cited under more broad distracted driving laws. And if a driver were involved in a crash while holding a pet in their lap, the potential exists for distracted driving being used as evidence of negligence or recklessness in an injury lawsuit.
While no statistics exist yet to determine how many accidents have been caused by pets riding in drivers laps, the potential for catastrophe is very real. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, "Looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash."
Even the calmest dog can be startled by a horn, or excited by the sight of a squirrel crossing the road, and it only takes a moment for Fido to suddenly block your vision, knock your hand off the wheel, or tumble onto the floor blocking your access to the brake pedal.
If the potential danger to yourself or others on the road isn't enough to sway you away from allowing your dog behind the wheel, consider the potential harm that could come to him if you were involved in even a minor fender bender, at fault or not. Unrestrained, your dog could be thrown toward the windshield, tossed through an open window, or crushed by a deployed airbag.
Our own shelter mascot, Henrietta Beans enjoys the ride in her person's bright green Honda, safely and snuggly secured in her doggie booster seat.
All in all, it's just too great a risk to yourself, to other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and to your pup to allow lap time while operating a motor vehicle, when there are a number of comfortable and affordable pet restraint solutions available, including partitions and barriers, pet car seats, and even their own seat belt.
Avoid the risk and avoid my disapproving glare - keep your pet off of your lap while you drive and focus on the road while they focus on joy of the ride.
And speaking of pets and cars, did you know you can help the former by getting rid of the latter? It's easy and free to donate your old clunker to help more pets get a chance at a forever home: call 855-500-RIDE (7433) or visit LetLoveLive.org/donate to start the process.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah lives in Graniteville with her family which includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.