Monterey County

Car crash tests show alarming failure rate for pet safety

pet restraints

SALINAS, Calif. - April is distracted driving month, but there's a distraction you probably haven't thought about: pets as passengers.

Thousands of pet owners take their pets along for the ride, never realizing they're putting themselves and their pets in danger.

The Center for Pet Safety released some crash tests it says every pet owner should see. Just like in human crash testing, all the dogs in these tests are crash test dummies.

A car crash can happen in the blink of an eye and it can be fatal for you and your pet. Products that are even supposed to protect your pet, may not.

"We are concerned about every product that is out there on the market right now, I'll be honest with you," said Lindsey Wolko founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit research and advocacy organization dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety.

Lindsey Wolko started this testing program after her own dog was hurt in a crash.

"We started crash testing in 2011, where we looked at these harness products to see if they actually hold up in crash protection mode, and unfortunately we had 100 percent failure rate," said Wolko.

While you wouldn't think twice about buckling up your kids, the same isn't true for pets. AAA estimates that 80 percent of dogs are unrestrained while riding in cars. Mark Oman's dog, Max, was part of that statistic.

"We had him in the back. His paws were on the console between the seats and a car pulled out in front of us. We had to slam on the breaks, and he went flying between the seats his head right into the gear shift," said Oman.

An AAA study says an unrestrained dog is a hazard to itself and the driver. An unrestrained 10-pound dog traveling at 50 miles per hour flies forward with 500 pounds of pressure in a crash, and an 80-pound dog at only 30 mph packs a 2,400-pound punch.

Oman's car didn't crash, but his dog still suffered severe injuries from the sudden stop.

"He had spinal injuries, head injuries," said Oman.

Now, Oman keeps his other dog Winnie in a kennel in the back, but new crash tests show that kennels can cause severe injuries too.

No law in California prohibits unrestrained pets in cars, but the California Highway Patrol says driving with a pet can be just as distracting as calling or texting on a cell phone, and just as dangerous.

"We recommend that anybody who is traveling with a pet to make sure that pet is restrained in the vehicle. We don't want the pet to become a projectile in a crash," said Jaimie Rios of California Highway Patrol.

Veterinarian, Greg Marsolais, says most pet owners aren't even aware they need safety restraints.

"Very few clients restrain their pets so it's a real problem," said Marsolais.

Veterinarians like Loly Hogans of Harden Ranch Veterinary Hospital suggest pet owners should do their homework before buying any pet safety product, because the 60 billion dollar pet products business is highly unregulated.

"Go to a consumer's report, and do the research before you go because you can't always count on what the package states or what the employee is telling you," said Hogans.

This website from Lindsey Wolko's Center for Pet Safety offers more information, like ratings for pet restraints, including one that actually worked when they put it to the test from the brand Sleepypod.

"We are a consumer advocacy group for most, so pet owners can trust us to do the research, do the leg work, find the information they need, where they can't get anywhere else," said Wolko.

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