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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Study by UAB Investigators Examines Association between Driving with Pets and MVCs

Distracted driving is a major cause of motor vehicle collisions (MVCs). Pets—particularly those riding in the front with drivers — have been identified as possible distractions, and drivers with deficiencies in the cognitive aspects of visual processing could be particularly susceptible to this type of interference. To evaluate potential links between older adults driving with pets and incidence of MVCs, Ms. Carrie Huisingh, doctoral student in the department of epidemiology and statistician in the department of ophthalmology, and Dr. Gerald McGwin, professor and vice chair in the department of epidemiology and professor in the department of ophthalmology, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, conducted a three-year prospective study of 2,000 licensed drivers aged 70 years and older, using data from the Alabama Department of Public Safety (with at-fault status determined by the officer at the scene of each accident). Co-investigators are Dr. Emily B. Levitan, associate professor, and Dr. Ryan Irvin, assistant professor, in UAB’s department of epidemiology; and Dr. Cynthia Owsley, professor in UAB’s department of ophthalmology.

[Photo: Dr. Gerald McGwin]

Participants were questioned by a trained interviewer about ownership of pets in addition to if they drove with the pets in their cars, the frequency of this action, and the position(s) of the pets within their vehicles. Poisson regression was subsequently used to calculate crude and adjusted rate ratios (RR) by considering this data in relation to any at-fault MVC involvement by the participants (who were followed until they quit driving or died during the study period, or until the completion of the study). Results were then examined to ascertain if visual impairment status — as measured by Useful Field of View, Trails B, and Motor-free Visual Perception Test — influenced incident rates.

The researchers found that “rates of crash involvement were similar for older adults who have ever driven with a pet compared with those who never drove with their pet (RR = 1.15, 95 percent confidence interval [CI] 0.76–1.75). Drivers who reported always or sometimes driving with their pet had higher MVC rates compared with pet owners who never drive with a pet, but this association was not statistically significant (RR = 1.39, 95 percent CI 0.86–2.24). In terms of location, those reporting having a pet frequently ride in the front of the vehicle had similar rates of MVC involvement compared with those who did not drive with a pet in the front. A similar pattern of results was observed for at-fault MVCs. This association was not modified by visual processing impairment status.”

This study indicates an association, albeit insignificant, between often driving with pets and being involved in MVCs. The scientists conclude that additional research is needed — especially regarding the use of restraints and confirmation that a pet was in the vehicle at the time of each crash — in order to establish the potential benefit to public safety of imposing regulations on driving with pets.

“Driving with Pets and Motor Vehicle Collision Involvement among Older Drivers: A Prospective Population-based Study” was published online in the March issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention.

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