Pets travelling in cars need to be restrained for safety's sake
A friend recently whizzed past me in her family estate car as I cycled to work.
Her large German Shepherd was sitting in the rear passenger seat behind her, his large shaggy head protruding from the open car window.
He barked at me as the car passed, and I called back to him, returning the greeting. It was a lovely moment on a blue skied sunny day.
Sometimes it seems that dogs are almost human in the way they react to us.
The incident did, however, remind me about the important issue of safety and dogs in cars. This is a part of life where our culture has been relaxed, and there's a strong argument that we should tighten up on our routines.
If a dog is allowed to travel unrestrained in a car, especially with a fully open window, there are serious risks that we should all be aware of.
A recent survey found that nearly 90% of motorists who regularly travel with their pets had been distracted by their animal when driving. A further 11% had nearly crashed into the vehicle in front because of the distraction.
As I write this, I feel like a killjoy. Part of the pleasure in life is to be free, to be able to do what we want to do, without being restricted by rules and regulations.
When I was in my twenties, I went on a long trip around India, and one of the big differences I noticed was the freedom that people had to do as they wished. So I could travel in a train with the door open, sitting on the floor with my legs on the outside step , feeling the breeze on my body.
I could even have climbed onto the roof of the train, sitting there in a Buddha like pose as the train travelled at speed through the countryside.
And when I went back to India last year, the same level of freedom still exists in many areas.
The rules of the road are far more relaxed than in Ireland.
I saw an entire family on one motorbike, with the father driving, a child between his knees, the mother riding pillion passenger behind him with a baby in her arms, and a third child behind her, holding on tightly.. People seemed able to set their own rules about how they travel.
In Ireland, and across Europe, we have lost this freedom to do as we wish in many areas of our life. It can sometimes seem over-serious and boring. What has happened to our freedom?
Yet when you scratch the surface of this situation, you soon realise that there are very good reasons why we have regulations. It's all about ensuring that people live safely, avoiding serious injury and death.
Over fifteen thousand people die every year in incidents involving trains in India. While many of these are people being hit by trains when walking by the tracks, this high mortality figure is the other, dark side of the general sense of freedom that people have to do as they wish on and around trains.
In the whole of Europe, around 1000 people die every year due to trains.
India has a human population twice the size of Europe (1.5 billion compared to 0.75 billion) so that means that their train safety is around seven times worse than our own. This is a direct consequence of lack of effective rules and regulations.
The statistics for road safety are similarly worse. In Ireland, there are 4 road fatalities per 100000 people, whereas in India, the figure is 16.
So the roads are four times less safe over there. This is a result of the type of environment where families are allowed to cram themselves onto motorbikes in that charming way.
By the way, India is far from the worst, globally. Other countries in Asia and Africa are twice as bad again, with over thirty fatalities per 100000 people. Again, this is because of the lack of enforcement of rules on the road.
This brings me back to dogs and other pets travelling in cars. Under Irish law, pets must be restrained safely in some way so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you if you stop quickly. It isn't difficult to do this, but it does take a little planning.
If you go to any pet shop (or an online pet shop), you'll find a section dedicated to pets in cars. The type of safety measures needed depend largely on the size of the animal.
A cat or small dog can be placed in a plastic pet carrier, and then secured to the car by straps threaded through the usual car seatbelts.
If a dog travels in the luggage compartment of an estate car or a hatchback, you should fit a secure dog-guard to screen off the rear area from the front section of the car.
And if your dog travels in the front section of the car (i.e. the rear passenger seats), you should place a harness around your dog's body, then attach this in some way either to the usual seat belts, or to special connectors that use the Isofix system that's also used to secure human baby or child seats.
Our culture has changed, so that it's no longer acceptable to have children travelling unsecured inside cars. It's time that we changed again, so that for their safety and our own, pets in cars no longer travel without restraint.