The new study comes from researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. They found that elderly drivers who always drove with pets faced a crash rate twice as high as pet-free elderly drivers. The crash rate for drivers who occasionally or rarely brought along their pets was similar to rates for people without pets.
“This is the first study to evaluate the presence of pets in a vehicle as a potential internal distraction for elderly drivers,” said Gerald McGwin, the study’s co-author and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology, according to recent news reports of the study. “The increased crash rate for elderly drivers who always drive with pets is important in the context of increasing driver awareness about potentially dangerous driving habits.”
The University of Alabama-Birmingham researchers found that for older drivers – 70 years of age and older – overall and at-fault crash rates were higher for those whose pets rode with them regularly.
This latest study is more proof of the wide range of distractions that put drivers and others at risk. It takes just a few seconds of distracted driving to cause an accident and take a life. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says more than 10 percent of all highway deaths are caused by distracted driving.
Guidelines announced recently by the federal Department of Transportation aim to keep drivers focused on the road and keep carmakers from producing dashboard distractions. According to those guidelines, drivers should not take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds.
Researchers concluded that pets are unlikely to physically interfere with a driver but rather, will provide a distraction especially dangerous to older drivers who displayed slower cognitive performance and response times than younger drivers when dealing with “an increased cognitive or physical workload while driving.”