While the biggest road safety concern was once driving under the influence, it has been discovered that simply driving while distracted – while eating, applying makeup, or using a cell phone, for example -- can be a dangerous endeavor. Over the past few years, texting and driving in particular has proven to be a very serious road hazard; it has cost a number of lives, and 42 states have developed laws and campaigns against it.

Now many states are focusing their attention on a new potential driving danger – one that has gone virtually unnoticed for years, but may prove to be just as much of a danger as texting and driving. This one involves the fairly common habit of driving with a pet on one’s lap.

The problemThere are no real statistics to say exactly how many accidents have been caused by drivers allowing pets on their laps in recent years. However, the potential danger is real. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chance of a crash. It would only take two seconds for a frightened or excited pet to suddenly climb up onto your neck, attempt to jump out a window, claw you, or crawl under the brake pedal.

The factsA 2011 AAA and Kurgo survey examined how and why people drive with their pets, as well as any potential distractions traveling with pets might cause. They found that nearly 60 percent of respondents had driven with their pets in the last month, and a full 31 percent admitted to being distracted by their pet while driving. Among the more common distractions: reaching in the backseat to interact with a pet; feeding and petting a pet; and taking a pet’s photo while driving.

Nearly one in five respondents admitted to either allowing their pet to sit on their lap or holding them while driving. Twenty-three percent admitted that they use their hands or arms to try and secure their pet when they hit the brakes.