Driving with a cute pet on your lap is an accident waiting to happen - here's why

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• Driving with one's pet on your lap is a dangerous and often overlooked driving sin.

• The National Road Traffic Act states that no pet may impede driving actions.

• Many road users are not aware that it is illegal driving with a pet on their lap.

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Texting and driving and drinking and driving are among the most common causes of accidents. Governments worldwide go to great lengths to ensure that these issues and others are not committed, as it can cause accidents and even lead to death. One in-driving activity that few people seem to note is that it is dangerous driving with a pet on your lap. While cute, the animals' unpredictable behaviour on the driver's lap can cause a lapse in focus, which can negatively affect all road users in the vicinity.

Now, it's not uncommon to take to the road and see a dog with its head out of the driver's window. We've become so accustomed to it that we don't recognize - or want to recognize - the dangers that accompany such actions. Before a recent on-the-road incident, even I would take to the road with my dog resting his head on my arm while the wind brushes over his face.

However, driving on the R300 recently - one of the busiest and most dangerous roads in Cape Town - I came across a driver in the right lane going at about 90km/h. Holding up traffic, he had no intention of moving to the far-left lane. When I managed to move past him and glance at who this was, the driver was having his face licked by his dog, and his focus was nowhere near the driving task at hand.

Risks involved

The actions of this driver set off a few alarms with regards to how I travel with my pets in the vehicle. Having a Maltese Poodle, I often let things slide when he drives with me, but it made me question my own responsibilities as a road user. While we maintain the basic rules of the road, it is also imperative that we familiarise ourselves with the SA rules of the road and set and enforce personal boundaries to ensure the safety of everyone using the road when we take to it.

Reading up on the National Road Traffic Act, Regulation 308 (1) says: "No person driving or having a vehicle on a public road shall (c) permit any person, animal or object to occupy any position in or on such vehicle which may prevent the driver thereof from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or signalling his or her intention of stopping, slowing down or changing direction."

READ: Big debate - Am I a vigilante for not clearing the road when a faster driver approaches?

When a dog sits on one's lap, your focus is not 100% on driving: You look down to ensure that said pet is okay, and you must contend with said pet walking over your lap and throughout the vehicle. Heck, sometimes your pet wants to lie at your feet while driving!

In the event of an accident, did you know that a Maltese Poodle weighing 3kg can exert around 150kg of pressure in a crash where the speed of impact was 50km/h? Also, an airbag will kill said pet instantly when deployed. And when said pet is on your lap when the airbag is deployed, both you and your four-legged family member may not come out of it alive.

Dog with its face outside a moving vehicle

Restraining your pet

Eugene Herbert, managing director of MasterDrive, says: "It is important to restrain your pets for several reasons. The first is to prevent them from causing a distraction while you are driving by moving around or trying to reach you while you should be focusing on the road. The second is to provide them with protection in the case of a crash or abrupt evasive action to avoid a crash. Your seatbelt prevents you from flying through the windscreen, lurching forward or hitting the dash or steering wheel when you brake abruptly. Unrestrained animals do not have the same protection. They are at even greater risk if they are standing when you brake suddenly.

"Whether you teach your pets to travel in safely secured crates or make use of seatbelt restraints designed for animals, we urge you to start doing so right away. Even if travelling is something your pets are accustomed to, anything can happen at any time. Restraining your pets is something these members of your family deserve."

MasterDrive shares these tips to ensure your animal's safety when travelling:

• Never let your pet travel on the front seat.

• Attach a tag with all your information to your pet's collar in case they should get loose from the car in a crash or in case they get loose at a stop.

• Train your pet to travel in a crate or with a restraint from when they are a puppy or kitten.

• Never leave your pet in a stationary car, even with the windows open. Temperatures can quickly reach over 40-degrees Celsius.

• Do not let your pet travel with its head out of the window.

Dog trained to be seated in a moving vehicle
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