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Unrestrained Pets Aren’t as Distracting as Kids in the Car

May 25, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance
As Northwest drivers hit the road with their pandemic puppies in tow, a new poll from PEMCO Insurance shows that while a majority agree that unrestrained pets pose distractions for drivers, at least one in three say they still let their fur baby roam around or sit in their lap while driving. But when it comes to staying focused behind the wheel, drivers say there’s an even greater distraction than wandering pets – kids in the car.

According to the latest PEMCO poll, 77% of respondents in the Seattle and Portland areas say that unrestrained pets pose at least somewhat of a distraction to drivers when they’re allowed to roam around the vehicle. Slightly more – 80% – also agree that it’s at least somewhat important for pets to be safely restrained when they’re along for a ride.

Still, the poll found that about one out of three drivers who own a cat or dog (34%) admit that they let their pet sit on their lap or roam around the vehicle sometimes or often while driving.

But when it comes to considering the greatest driving distractions, drivers today say that it’s more challenging to stay focused when kids are in the car than it is when pets are passengers. That represents a shift in opinion, at least among Seattle drivers, since PEMCO last asked the same question of drivers in 2016 when significantly more said pets were more distracting.

“We’ve all seen – or maybe even experienced – the joy of a dog sniffing the breeze or hanging its head outside a car window,” said PEMCO spokesperson Derek Wing. “And while it can be cute, most of us agree that it’s probably not the safest way for pets or passengers to travel. It’s encouraging to see that fairly few drivers say they allow pets to be unrestrained, but our data also shows that other drivers say they see roaming dogs and cats a lot more often than pet-owners might admit.”

According to the poll, 83% of respondents say that they often or sometimes see fellow drivers with unrestrained pets in their vehicles, which can pose serious safety hazards for all. Even so, only 22% would strongly support stricter rules for driving with pets, whether that’s better enforcement of existing laws, creating new ones or imposing more costly penalties for violations.

In Washington, it’s not illegal to drive with an unrestrained pet inside your vehicle, but according to the Washington State Patrol, if a driver is pulled over for another violation and law enforcement notes that the unrestrained pet poses a distraction, the driver may be fined.

In Oregon, there are currently no laws that require drivers to restrain their pets when they’re traveling inside the vehicle, but the law does require pets riding outside the vehicle’s cab, like in the bed of a truck, to be secured.

When you’re hitting the road with your canine co-pilot, PEMCO recommends keeping these safety tips in mind:
  • Pets in the back. Airbags are a lifesaving safety feature for people, but not for pets. Keep your pet safe by restraining them in the backseat.
  • Use a crate or carrier. The safest way for pets to travel is in a well-secured crate or carrier, strapped in with a seatbelt in the backseat. Choose a carrier that allows your pet to stand up and turn around, if possible.
  • Use a crash-tested safety harness. If you can’t use a crate, consider a crash-tested harness that works in conjunction with your car’s seatbelt. There are harnesses specially designed for car travel, so do your homework before purchasing one.
  • Keep everyone inside the vehicle. Don’t let pets hang their heads out the window while you’re driving or wander around a truck bed. They could get struck by debris or injured if the driver has to make sudden maneuvers.
  • Check the temp. When you’re making pit stops, don’t leave pets unattended in a hot vehicle. On a 75-degree day, interior temperatures can reach 100 degrees or hotter, even with the windows cracked.

For a complete summary of PEMCO’s proprietary poll results visit, where you’ll find responses collected by FBK Research of Seattle in February 2022.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Mutual Insurance commissioned this independent survey, conducted by FBK Research of Seattle, that asked Washington and Oregon residents questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 481 respondents in the Seattle Metro (King, Snohomish, Pierce Counties) region and 399 respondents in the Portland Metro (Multnomah, Marion, Clackamas, Washington Counties) region yields an accuracy of +/- 5.0% respectively at the 95% confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range. 

About PEMCO Mutual Insurance
PEMCO Mutual Insurance is the Defender of Your Northwest, providing auto, home, renters and boat coverage. We are consistently recognized for outstanding service, employee expertise and social impact. Our Mutual Good programs raise the achievement levels for youth in education; build stronger, greener environments; and increase safety at home, on the road and at play. Our mission: Free our communities to worry less and live more.

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