Picture this: You’re in Iowa heading east a smidge over 80 mph on I-80. You look to the right, and there, in a 1974 Corvette going the same speed, is a perky little poodle-like dog (let’s call it Poopsie) hanging out the driver’s side window. Not just its head, but its two front paws and nearly half its torso.
Don’t worry about Poopsie, though. That wind-blown poodle is being safely secured by the driver of the Corvette, who is grasping the leash with one hand while driving with the other.
Actually, we should be very worried, and about more than just Poopsie. There’s also the distracted, now one-handed driver of the Corvette, who may or may not be able to react to traffic, much less protect Poopsie. And what about the rest of us on the highway?
Unfortunately, this is an everyday occurrence that’s distracting and dangerous for everyone, especially Poopsie, whose 10-pound body becomes a 500-pound projectile in the car at a mere 50 mph, according to AAA calculations.
Nearly 60 percent of dog owners surveyed in 2011 drive with their pets in their vehicles at least once a month—and the number has likely grown significantly since that study. Yet, 84 percent do not confine or restrain their dog while driving.
We know what that 84 percent looks like. Every day, several times a day, we see dogs of varying sizes hanging out car windows, sitting on the driver’s lap, jumping from side-to-side and back-to-front. They are nudging the driver’s arm, or calmly riding shotgun in the pick-up truck with nothing but the driver’s reassuring reach across the truck to hold Rover, while suddenly breaking hard. And don’t forget about Fluffy the cat, sleeping in the back window or clinging to the steering wheel.
None of these scenarios are good for anyone, especially the pet. When I see these and many more situations of drivers distracted by unconfined pets, I am not only irritated and anxious, I also question the logic and genuine concern of today’s pet parents.
Multiple studies report that most pet owners consider themselves to be pet parents and will go to great lengths and expense to ensure Poopsie or Fluffy are healthy, happy and safe. Yet, they won’t confine or restrain their fur babies in the vehicle. Which begs the question: If pet parents don’t care about their own safety or that of other drivers, why won’t they protect their fur babies in the vehicle?
Here are a few more shocking statistics from the same 2011 survey, which was jointly sponsored by AAA and kennel and pet carrier manufacturer Kurgo:
- 83 percent of dog owners know the dangers of driving with their pet unconfined in the vehicle.
- 65 percent admit to engaging in at least one distracting activity with their dog in the vehicle.
Ironically, while the awareness of smartphones and distracted driving has soared through the roof in the last several years, there are limited conversations about pets and distracted driving. It’s time to turn up the volume on this issue. Pet parenting is on the rise, as are pet passengers.
Whose job it is to advocate for pet safety in the vehicle?
We can suggest any number of organizations that should, ranging from veterinarians, groomers and shelters to automobile insurance companies—all have the potential to be well-allied associations. It’s a no-brainer to suggest that manufacturers like Kurgo should again seize on this opportunity. Perhaps, pet supply retailers can credibly advocate for pet confinement or vehicle restraints.
Advocating for in-vehicle pet safety (or reducing pet distractions while driving) is a year-round content and promotion opportunity for retailers. In a recent survey by TripAdvisor.com, nearly half of the respondents travel with their pets. Rover will be traveling to Grandma’s house for the holidays, whether for Easter, Mother’s Day or Hanukkah, as well as running errands and going to the Farmer’s Market with the family. Poopsie and Fluffy are going on Spring Break and summer vacations. They need a sturdy kennel or carrier, comfortable harnesses and leashes, plus lightweight, yet durable, kennel cups.
The real opportunity for retailers is to reach these pet parents through advocacy and content. Pet parents want to know that marketers have their and their fur babies’ interests at heart. They expect your efforts to be sincere and valuable. And they need objective, informative advice on how to ensure Rover and Fluffy are safe, healthy and happy while traveling.
At Rhea + Kaiser, we believe marketing and advocacy can co-exist credibly while serving an important issue with objective, usable content at the cornerstone of these efforts. We also believe that dogs and driving don’t mix and all pets should be confined or restrained in vehicles. Their lives depend on it, as do yours and ours.
Diane Martin is President/CEO of Rhea + Kaiser and loves pets and pet safety almost as much as she loves marketing pet products and services.