With spring break nearly upon us, and summer not far behind, many families are gearing up for a road trip, and bringing Fido along for the fun. While dogs may be man's best friend, they may not always be the safest driving companion. That's because a recent survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo uncovered some surprising - and dangerous - driving behaviors for those who bring their pets along for the ride.

Nearly nine out of 10 dog owners have brought their pooch on car trips in the last year. Of those, nearly two-thirds of drivers admitted to engaging in distracting activities with their pet. However, less than a third realize they have been distracted by canine passengers.

In fact, according to the study, almost 60 percent admitted to participating in at least one of the following doggie driving distractions while behind the wheel:

• 55 percent pet their dog

• 21 percent allowed their dog to sit in their lap

• 7 percent gave their dog food and water

• 5 percent played with their dog

The survey also revealed that only 17 percent of those drivers use some form of pet restraint in their vehicles while driving with their pooch. This is a scary statistic, considering the dangers an unrestrained pet may pose. An unrestrained 10-pound dog will exert about 500 pounds of force in a collision at 50 mph. In a collision at only 30 mph, an 80-pound dog will exert roughly 2,400 pounds of force.

In light of these facts, AAA encourages dog owners to take the following precautions when they bring their furry family members along for the ride:

• Save petting and playtime for before or after the drive. Wait until you've arrived at your destination to give your dog any unnecessary attention. If they need your immediate attention, safely pull off the road before tending to them.

• Determine the best place for your dog to "Sit!" and "Stay!" The front airbag system in your vehicle can be deadly to a small child, and the same is true for dogs, even if they are restrained. Consider sitting your dog in the back seat or cargo area of your car where they can avoid crash hazards and you can focus on driving.

• Buckle up your pup. Use a pet restraint system to keep your dog safe and secure in case of a collision, and also to keep them from roaming the car and distracting you from driving. Pet restraint products are inexpensive and are available at local pet stores.

Lastly, to ensure a hassle-free trip enjoyed by all, before you embark on any trip with your pup, be sure they receive a clean bill of health from your veterinarian and that their vaccinations are current.

Linda Gorman is public affairs director for AAA Arizona. Reach her at (602) 650-2716.

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