.k Can Driving with a Pet Cause a Distracted Driving Accident?
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Can Driving with My Pet Cause a Distracted Driving Accident?

March 1, 2021


Pet owners often love to take their dogs for car rides. For some people, dogs go along as service or support animals. Some drivers may wonder if it is legal to drive with their pets. It is legal in Virginia, and it can be safely down if a driver follows certain laws and safety measures.

It is legal to drive with a dog in the car in Virginia; however, the following must be considered when there is a dog in the car:

  • Traffic laws apply to any driver, with or without a pet in the car. Reckless and distracted driving are common charges in cases where pets may have caused or contributed to accidents.
  • If a pet was injured in a vehicle accident or a pet caused distracted or reckless driving, a personal injury claim can be valid.
  • Laws pertaining to animals, such as leash and animal cruelty laws, also pertain to driving with pets.

It is worth noting that a driver will also be subject to the laws of the locality they are driving in or where an accident occurred.

Traffic Laws While Driving with a Dog

No legislation in Virginia requires a dog to be restrained in the car. However, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) calls driving with unrestrained animals dangerous and distracting. It is recommended to always keep one’s animal in a proper crate, harness, or similar device before getting on the road. Reckless and distracted driving can happen when a dog is allowed to roam freely in a vehicle.

Distracted driving is a common cause of accidents in Virginia and throughout the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2018, distracted driving killed 2,841 people, including 1730 drivers, 605 passengers, 400 pedestrians, and 77 bicyclists. Contact a car accident lawyer if any of the following occurs:

  • A driver with an unrestrained dog receives a ticket or gets a misdemeanor charge.
  • A driver sustains a personal injury from an accident involving a driver with an unrestrained dog in the car.
  • A dog sustains an injury or fatality because of another driver.
  • A driver with an unrestrained dog causes a personal injury to another motorist.

Distracted Driving can be Reckless Driving

Unrestrained pets in the car can easily contribute to distracted driving or interfere with the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. In Virginia, dangerous driving acts can be punishable as reckless driving. Reckless driving is defined as driving that endangers the life, limb, or property of any person. In Virginia, a pet or other animal is considered property.

Anything that takes a driver’s attention away from driving is considered a distraction, such as texting, talking on the phone, and playing the radio too loud. There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual: Anything that causes a driver to take their eyes off the road.
  • Manual: When a driver takes their hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive: When a driver’s mind strays from focusing on driving.

A dog can easily cause distracted driving or reckless driving. These distracting behaviors can lead to a ticket, a misdemeanor charge, or an accident that injures the driver, pet, or another motorist or a pedestrian:

  • Feeding the pet a treat.
  • Petting or calming the animal.
  • Freeing the animal who is caught in something in the car.
  • Moving the animal from the front to the back or elsewhere in the car.
  • Opening or closing windows for the animal.
  • Guarding the front seat with a hand or arm so the animal cannot get in the front.
  • Animal getting caught in the brake pedal, gas pedal, or otherwise causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
  • Animal obstructing the driver’s front, side, or rear view.
  • Animal sitting in a driver’s lap or on the front console area, limiting the drives manual driving abilities.
  • Animal whining or barking that distracts the driver or causes the inability to hear.

What are the Reckless Driving Laws in Virginia?

Reckless driving is one of the most common driving-related charges in Virginia. Courts treat reckless driving as a Class 1 misdemeanor unlike many other traffic infractions. That means that a reckless driving charge can be a serious offense and does not disappear by paying a ticket.

Almost all reckless driving charges fall under one of three different general laws in Virginia:

  • Driving a vehicle in a way that endangers others, regardless of speed. This can include distracted driving caused by a pet in the car.
  • Driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit or faster than 80 miles per hour, regardless of the speed limit.
  • Failing to maintain control of a vehicle and failing to properly maintain a vehicle’s safety equipment, such as brakes.

A charge of reckless driving can potentially damage an insurance or personal injury claim. Reckless driving can also result in fines, jail time, points on a license, license suspension, and a damaged driving record.

Can a Pet in the Car Cause a Personal Injury?

A personal injury can occur when a pet causes a distracted or reckless driving accident. An injury can happen to the driver, the pet, the motorist of another vehicle, bystanders, and pedestrians.

If a driver fails to restrain an animal properly, any insurance or personal injury claims resulting from an accident can be harmed or invalidated. Pets are considered property in Virginia. If a pet is hurt or killed, a case can be made that the driver failed to adequately protect the animal from harm, thereby ruining the driver’s claim for damages. The best solution is always to keep a pet restrained in the back seat to reduce the chances of distracted driving and accidents.

A lawyer can explain the nuances of traffic laws, pet laws, and personal injury claims involving a pet riding unrestrained in a car. Contact a lawyer for more information on responding to or making a personal injury claim.

Pet Laws Concerning Transportation

Transportation of an animal in Virginia falls under the Virginia Code on agriculture, which states that an owner shall provide the following to companion animals:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Water
  • Space in a primary enclosure
  • Exercise
  • Care and treatment
  • Transportation

Virginia codes regarding the responsible handling or transport of animals state that all animals must be adequately and reasonably restrained while in vehicles. Virginia law does not specifically explain how to restrain an animal, so most instances of transporting an animal would fall under a reasonable interpretation of the law. The Virginia DMV recommends that all animals be restrained in the back seat using pet restraints or seats that attach to a car’s safety belt or in a wire cage or plastic crate.

Having an unrestrained pet in a vehicle increases the chances of distracted and reckless driving than can lead to accidents and injuries. Anyone involved with a personal injury or reckless driving incident involving an unrestrained pet needs a lawyer by their side.

Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Advocate for Personal Injury Victims

A pet can easily cause a distracted driving or reckless driving collision. Speak to a Virginia Beach car accident lawyer if you were injured by a distracted driver. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we will fight for your rights and help you gain available compensation for your injuries. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation today. We have an office located in Virginia, Beach, Virginia, and we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.

Areas We Serve

Our law firm proudly serves clients injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina on personal injury claims, including cases with traumatic brain injury, spinal and neck injury, wrongful death, and more serious injuries. As Virginia Beach personal injury attorneys with many years experience, our team of lawyers will be ready to fight for you. If you were injured on the job, our Virginia Beach Workers Compensation lawyers are ready to serve you.

Call 757-352-2237 or fill out the online contact form for a free consultation about your personal injury, workers compensation, or other attorney services. Our firm adopts a team approach to every case, so while one primary lawyer will be assigned to your case, you have the benefit of an experienced team of lawyers, all working on your side. We are located in Virginia Beach, VA, and serve clients who were injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina.

301 Bendix Road, Suite 460
Virginia Beach VA 23452
Ph: 757-352-2237 | Fax: 757-994-8910