It's back to school time and also a great time to remind motorists to be safe on the roadways. Not only should drivers be careful of an increased number of children going to and coming from school, they should also adhere to all laws that address distracted driving.
Distracted driving recently has drawn more attention with steeper fines and penalties for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.
Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety, according to distraction.gov, the official U.S. Government website for distracted driving hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. These types of distractions include:
Using a cell phone or smartphone
Eating and drinking
Talking to passengers
Reading, including maps
Using a navigation system
Watching a video
Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
But there's another action that should be on the "don't do" list. It's driving with a pet in one's lap, which deserves attention and legislation. According to state police in Ray Brook, there is no law in New York State that says you cannot ride with a dog in your lap. Or eat a double hamburger and french fries while driving or comb your hair or other such activities for that matter. But there should be.
Traffic safety committees and law enforcement agencies have been pushing for legislation to make other forms of distracted driving illegal for years but to no avail. Only New Jersey and Hawaii have laws against dogs or other pets behind the wheel, and distracted driver laws in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut can be used to prosecute the offense. Now it's time for New York to take action.
According to the distraction.gov website, in 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 3,267 in 2010. An additional, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, compared to 416,000 injured in 2010.
In a 2010 survey by the American Automobile Association (AAA), 20 percent of those polled admitted to letting their dog sit on their lap while driving, and 31 percent said they were distracted by their dog while driving; 65 percent of dog owners admitted to engaging in a potentially distracting activity, such as petting, feeding or snapping a photo, while driving with their dog.
But getting involved in an accident has other factors. An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a 50-mile-per-hour crash exerts about 500 pounds of force, according to AAA, and that kind of force could cause serious damage to the human and animal passengers.
In a 2010 USA Today article, Col. Frank Rizzo, superintendent of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, commented that "You wouldn't put your child in the car unrestrained, so you shouldn't put your pet in the car unrestrained, either. What people come to realize only too late is that animals act like flying missiles in an impact and can not only hurt themselves but hurt their human family members, too."
Increasing the penalty for texting while driving is a necessary move to help prevent fatal car accidents. The bottom line is that being distracted while driving isn't just a safety issue for those driving, but for others on the road as well - some of those children who will be walking or biking along the side of the road to and from school.
So far, with no laws preventing other forms of distracted driving, it pretty much comes down to common sense. If you are going to drive with your pet, keep it in the back seat or on the passenger seat, not in your lap.
But lawmakers, please take this matter to heart: with texting and talking on one's cell phone garnering so much attention and laws preventing those actions, it's time for other unsafe driving distractions to become illegal too. It will help make our roadways safer and lessen the likelihood of having an accident while driving distracted.