Well behaved pets can be a good scene to look at in cars. They may appear to be enjoying themselves with the wind on their hairs. However, there is a distraction angle to look at as well. Anything that takes the attention away from the road can be dangerous. This would be specially the case when the driver has already got limited response time due to age.
A study carried out at University of Alabama found that the risk of accidents doubled when an over 70 year old driver travel with a pet in the vehicle. They are usually at fault in accidents and this may be due to distractions. The study finds that most owners do travel with dogs or cats on front or back seat at least occasionally.
Animals would act more carefree than passengers you may have in the automobile. Some may not see what the fuss is about and want to sit on the lap of the owners while they are trying to operate a vehicle. This reduces reflections and bothers them to a degree they take eyes off the road. Many people look at and talk to them. Also, animals may react to something on the roadside forcing the owner to have a look.
Why the risks are higher for older owners?
As people are aged reactions and reflexes slow. They may struggle to see clearly after certain age and they may not be able to step on the brake like a youngster can. When you add an unruly animal into the equation problems can double as the study finds out.
Besides, you cannot expect them to standstill when there is all the space in a vehicle. They may get bored and like to move around causing concern. For example, cats can easily crawl between the owner’s legs and cause a panic. What would you do in such circumstances; step on the cat, kick it or avoid braking because you are worried about hurting it?
What are the advices for traveling with them?
As the main problem is distraction pets should not be allowed to interact with the driver. They should be restrained from going near. They should also not be on the vision line. Certainly they should never be on the laps. Direct interaction and limiting the manoeuvre space is not helpful and can be highly dangerous. It only takes a few seconds for an accident to happen but it can takes months to recover with an already frail body.
The older drivers do cause more accidents as statistical evidence show. This makes them higher risk and having a cat or dog in the car increases this risk even further. If you have to have them in the car it should be restrained properly. This is better for everyone’s safety. They can get injured and cause injuries if they are left without any barriers.
Probably the best is to contain them in the back of the vehicle with a mesh barrier. This is used by many others regardless of age. It appears that you would be all right to drive legally with a pet on your lap. However, would it be all right for the safety of everyone? Getting cheap auto insurance is harder for an elderly already due to age related factors. Having an accident because of distractions within the vehicle will make it even more difficult.