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Report: Pets pose a common source of distraction for Connecticut drivers

Many people report leaving their pets unrestrained in their cars and engaging in serious distractions while driving, such as photographing their pets.

Distracted driving has become alarmingly common in New Britain and other parts of Connecticut. According to The Connecticut Post, a study that the state Department of Transportation released in April 2015 shows that cell phone use alone accounts for over 11 million daily instances of distracted driving. Unfortunately, electronic devices aren't the only distractions drivers face. According to one report, pets riding along with drivers may represent an often overlooked but equally dangerous distraction.

Highly distracting passengers

Many people regularly bring their pets along for short car rides or even longer trips. According to CBS News, an American Automobile Association survey found that 38 percent of drivers bring their pets on road trips. However, a significant 37 percent of drivers report that they never restrain their pets during car trips. This finding is troubling, given the risk that unrestrained pets will distract their owners or act as projectiles during any motor vehicle accidents that do occur.

The actual level of distraction that owners report as a result of their pets is even more troubling. In the same survey, 13 percent of respondents admitted that their pets distracted them from driving. A surprising number of drivers also stated that they engaged in the following potentially dangerous activities while driving:

  • 17 percent of drivers reported petting their animals.
  • 13 percent of drivers confessed to giving their pets food or water.
  • 12 percent of drivers admitted to taking photographs of their pets.

According to KSL News, in a similar survey released in 2014, over one-fifth of respondents admitted to taking one or both hands off the wheel to attend to their pets. The same source notes that this tendency and the unpredictable nature of animals make leaving them loose in cars inherently dangerous. When pets act erratically and distract drivers at the wrong moment, serious accidents may result.

Attempted legal initiatives

Earlier this year, state lawmakers considered a bill that aimed to address this underappreciated threat to roadway safety. According to CBS News, the legislation prohibited people from driving with pets sitting on their laps, and it allowed for charges of distracted driving in the event of violations. However, the legislation did not progress.

In other states, including Hawaii and New Jersey, comparable measures have passed into law. Therefore, similar legislation or even stricter measures may succeed in the future in Connecticut. In the meantime, though, the risk of distracted driving accidents that involve this unusual source of distraction may remain significant.

Potential legal remedies

If a driver causes an accident and harms others while distracted, that driver may be held liable for the associated financial losses. This is true even if the distraction in question is not explicitly outlawed. As a result, people who have been injured because of inattentive or otherwise negligent drivers should consider reviewing the accident and available options with an attorney.