A pet can be yet another potential distraction to a driver. An animal restraint system can help keep a motorist's attention on the road, law enforcement officials and pet owners say.
"In addition to texting or listening to loud music, lap dogs or other pets left unrestrained could pose a major distraction that could be deadly," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.
Loose animals can interfere with steering wheels and crawl on foot pedals, he said.
Tracye Jones, of Evans, said that to reduce risks, she uses a car seat and seat belt specifically designed as pet restraints for her two small dogs.
"It's as bad as being on a cellphone," she said. "If they jump in my lap and I look down, then I could hit someone."
Buckling up pets protects the animals and the people in a car, Jones said.
"I'm going to slam on my brakes, and they're going to fly into the front seat of the car," she said.
Jones said she wants a law to be put in place mandating the use of pet restraints.
"You have to put a child in a car seat," she said. "You should do the same for your animal."
A few seconds spent buckling her pets into harnesses is a small price to pay for safety, Jones said.
Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins said he frequently sees dogs in the front seat, sitting in a driver's lap.
Dogs, like people, become dangerous projectiles when thrust forward by a forceful impact, Collins said.
"People need to have (dogs) secured and in the back seat," he said.
A dog sitting in a driver's lap could have been the cause of a car accident that killed two people in May 2010 in Columbia County, Collins said.
Richmond County sheriff's Maj. Richard Weaver said people should take advantage of pet safety restraints available in stores.
Veterinarian Gary Wilkes, of Westside Animal Hospital, said many of his clients exercise caution when transporting pets.
It is important to restrain pets, he said, but it's also important to keep their heads inside windows to protect their eyes.