Driving with pets and motor vehicle collision involvement among older drivers: A prospective population-based study

Academic Article


  • Objective Distracted driving is a major cause of motor vehicle collision (MVC) involvement. Pets have been identified as potential distraction to drivers, particularly in the front. This type of distraction could be worse for those with impairment in the cognitive aspects of visual processing. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the association between driving with pets and rates of motor vehicle collision involvement in a cohort of older drivers. Methods A three-year prospective study was conducted in a population-based sample of 2000 licensed drivers aged 70 years and older. At the baseline visit, a trained interviewer asked participants about pet ownership, whether they drive with pets, how frequently, and where the pet sits in the vehicle. Motor vehicle collision (MVC) involvement during the three-year study period was obtained from the Alabama Department of Public Safety. At-fault status was determined by the police officer who arrived on the scene. Participants were followed until the earliest of death, driving cessation, or end of the study period. Poisson regression was used to calculate crude and adjusted rate ratios (RR) examining the association between pet ownership, presence of a pet in a vehicle, frequency of driving with a pet, and location of the pet inside with vehicle with any and at-fault MVC involvement. We examined whether the associations differed by higher order visual processing impairment status, as measured by Useful Field of View, Trails B, and Motor-free Visual Perception Test. Results Rates of crash involvement were similar for older adults who have ever driven with a pet compared to those who never drove with their pet (RR = 1.15, 95% CI 0.76-1.75). Drivers who reported always or sometimes driving with their pet had higher MVC rates compared to pet owners who never drive with a pet, but this association was not statistically significant (RR = 1.39, 95% 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 to 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. Conclusion The current study demonstrates a positive but non-significant association between frequently driving with pets and MVC involvement. More research is needed, particularly on restraint use and whether the pet was in the car at the time of the crash, to help characterize the public safety benefit of regulations on driving with pets.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Huisingh C; Levitan EB; Irvin MR; Owsley C; McGwin G
  • Start Page

  • 169
  • End Page

  • 174
  • Volume

  • 88