Buckle Up Bowser

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, of the 71 million people in the U.S. who own dogs, over 29 million travel with them. This not only includes the busy vacation summer months, but in many cases, daily trips around the hometown. While the companionship is great, this can present a safety hazard to both pets and humans. A 2007-2008 APPMA National Pet Owners Survey found 80 percent of pet owners say they travel with their pets but never use a restraint.

As pets travel increases, more states are initiating laws addressing dogs in vehicles. California requires dogs in the open back of a pickup to be either in a cage or cross-tied to the truck unless the sides of the truck are at least 46 inches high. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Florida and Rhode Island restrict dogs from riding in pickup trucks or open vehicles with the exception of some working dogs (and they must wear hard hats). Nevada, New York and Vermont also have pending bills that would ban the transport of dogs in the back of pickup trucks.

"I think that in many cases what keeps people from utilizing pet restraints is a misconception that they require too much time and money to install and use them," said APPMA President Bob Vetere. "As is the case in almost every sector of the pet industry, manufacturers are bringing more convenient products to market, and travel safety devices are no exception."

The newest pet travel products are not only easy to install and use, but also protect pets and people in vehicles, as well as make travel more convenient and enjoyable. For example, Ruff Rider's Canine Vehicle Restraint System easily attaches to any vehicle's seatbelt system. The Canine Vehicle Restraint System is vet-approved and exceeds S.A.E. tensile strength standards for human seatbelts. It also includes a short walking lead for all-around use.

Veterinary Ventures Inc.'s new Hydro-Go(tm) Portable Pet Canteen features a convenient fold out bowl which allows for easy drinking when you're away from home (by your dog or cat, that is). The bowl and canteen work together to form a funnel, easily allowing the unused water to be poured back into the canteen. The Hydro-Go(tm) has a wide, adjustable shoulder strap that holds 36 ounces of water and is dishwasher-safe.

Komfort Pets has introduced a new Climate Controlled Pet Carrier,  which utilizes thermal electronic technology and airflow systems to maintain a consistent interior temperature of 72 degrees. You can even accessorize the pet carrier with safety features, including technology in the kennel that can notify the pet owner via text message if the power source has been interrupted or the carrier temperature is out of range.

Kurgo's Auto Zip Line(tm) features a tension cable that attaches between the two rear passenger side handles, creating a tether run for the dog. The secured line allows the dog the freedom to move around in the back seat while providing safety in case of sudden stops. The Backseat Barrier(tm) (also by Kurgo) is a strong divider that attaches behind the driver and passenger's seats and restricts dogs from moving between the front and back seats of the vehicle. Dogs stay where you put them, protecting driver and passengers from the potential hazard of your family pet propelling into the front seat when the vehicle stops short.

And who could possibly do without Aspen Pet Products' DogGone Songs(tm) -- Traveling tunes for you and your pet! This musical CD contains soothing piano melodies composed with the award-winning Schoenberger Effect. The original compositions will provide a peaceful and noticeable calmness over your pet during travel.

After all this, we could use some calmness ourselves. So have a doggone good time this summer.

Proud pet owner Luigi Fraschini covers the automobile industry and safety issues from his home in Cleveland.

Back Seat Safety

As you no doubt are aware, Force = Mass x Acceleration. And while this equation might seem like nothing but theory, the fact is that the laws of physics are unyielding. For instance, a 60-pound child in the back seat of a car traveling at a mere 30 miles per hour is involved in a sudden collision can exert as much force as a young elephant -- about 2,700 pounds -- if that child is unbelted and thrown forward in a sudden collision. That means a child can impact the windshield or a front-seat occupant with deadly force.

In 2005, 1,946 children age 14 or younger were killed while riding as passengers in motor vehicle accidents.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that motor vehicle crashes account for one in three injury deaths among children, and crash injuries are the leading cause of death among 5-to-12-year olds. But, frightening as that is, all is not hopeless. Accidents will happen, but they don't have to become tragedies. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 7,896 children under the age of five were saved from 1975 to 2005 by the use of safety belts and child restraints. Among passengers over the age of four, seat belts saved an estimated 15,632 during the same period.

Seat belts are the first and best line of defense in this battle. Massive injuries can result when vehicles stop or change direction suddenly as the result of a collision, and things can become far worse if the objects and occupants within the vehicle fail to change direction at the same time. If your car stops abruptly and passengers are unrestrained, they become potentially deadly projectiles.

"Restraints help people and cars move together," said Ingrid Skogsmo, director of safety for Volvo Car Corporation, Sweden "Imagine trying to keep your balance in a standing-room-only train car as it lurches forward suddenly or stops abruptly without something to brace yourself with."

It might be tempting to ignore this warning for short trips. After all, what could happen in a five-minute drive to school or the market?  Well, what could happen is tragedy. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, 75 percent of all crashes occur within 25 miles of home. And most of those take place on roads with maximum speed limits of 40 mph or less.

"People are just full of reasons for not belting back seat passengers," Skogsmo said. "School's just three minutes away, we're just going to the grocery store, or just over to friend's house. We're full of excuses. But in the end, if we don't belt our children or for that matter any rear-seat occupant, we're setting them up for injuries or death. 'Sorry' doesn't go very far then."

The best advice is to buckle up your rear seat passengers every time you get into the car, because the seat belt can perform a life-saving function not just in an initial impact, but also it what follows. A car's seat belt keeps doing its job of helping to retain the occupant within the safety structure of the cabin after the initial impact has occurred, because accidents often involve secondary impacts and/or rollovers. It is the seat belts that help keep the rear-seated occupants strapped safely inside the vehicle until the energy of the accident has dissipated.

"During a roll-over the effect is very much like clothes in a washing machine during the spin cycle," Skogsmo said. "There are huge forces that can easily eject occupants who are not using a seat belt."

Boston-bred Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the auto industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.

How to Avoid Winter Driving Mishaps

This winter has been relatively mild in many areas of the country, but that doesn't mean it will stay that way. A winter cold snap or two is bound to hit most of the U.S. before the winter is over, which means harsh road conditions could be in store for drivers. While winter driving can be dangerous and stressful for those behind the wheel, drivers can avoid or minimize accidents by following some basic rules of the road when it comes to driving in the winter elements.

"Winter driving can be very dangerous if you're not prepared or if your vehicle is not properly equipped to handle the effects of snow and ice," said Kit Johnson, 2007 NAPA/ASE Technician of the Year, who hails from East Helena, Mont., where they know something about snow and ice. "It is important to maintain your vehicle on a regular basis. If not taken care of, any small problems you had with your vehicle in good weather could very well be magnified once winter arrives."

First and foremost, Johnson recommends that drivers have their vehicles inspected by a NAPA or other independently-owned repair center that employs ASE-certified technicians prior to hitting the snowy roads. This will ensure that any major performance or safety issues will be identified and corrected so that the vehicle is operating at its peak performance for the winter season.

There are a number of things drivers can check on their own to ensure their vehicle is ready for winter driving. For example, if the battery posts are building up a layer of corrosion, Johnson suggests cleaning them with a paste of baking soda and warm water. Afterwards, it's a good idea to apply a small amount of petroleum jelly to the terminal posts to prevent future corrosion. During this coldest part of the year, drivers should also regularly check that all fluids are at proper levels. Make sure the anti-freeze is strong enough to avoid freezing and fresh enough to prevent rust. Checking fluids regularly during the winter season is an easy and inexpensive way to potentially stop a bigger problem from arising.

A clear windshield is important when driving through snow so make certain that wiper blades are cleaning properly. According to Johnson, drivers should not run wipers over an icy windshield because it cuts the rubber blade, preventing effective cleaning of the windshield.

"Besides cleaning the windshield, drivers should ensure that the rear defroster is working properly," said Johnson. "Changing lanes is difficult in a snowstorm, but it's almost impossible when snow and ice has built up and the rear defroster is not working."

In addition, quality all-season tires or snow tires with good tread will help maintain traction in snowy and icy conditions. It is a good idea to check the Tire Safety Web site for more recommendations on winter-related tire safety.

Lastly, NAPA encourages all drivers to be prepared for an emergency when driving in the winter elements. A vehicle's trunk is a good storage spot for anything drivers might need. The following are basic but essential winter supplies: Snow shovel, ice scraper with snowbrush on one end, flashlight and extra batteries, abrasive material to help with traction (sand, cat litter, salt or traction mats), jumper cables, candles, matches or lighter and high-energy food (chocolate or dried fruit is always good), warning device (flares or reflective triangles), winter clothes, boots, sleeping bags and blankets, and first-aid supplies. Some of these items might prove unnecessary if you live in Florida or Southern California, but why take the chance?

Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini has lived through more than his share of frigid winter weather.

Trains and Automobiles

It has been a long time since the automobile supplanted the train as the land transportation method of choice. But interaction between trains and automobiles continues and, sadly, American drivers have proven they are not all that good at it. As evidence, in the United States a person or a vehicle is struck by a train about every two hours.

The busy holiday season and inclement winter weather can add to the danger. To combat this hazard, a safety organization called Operation Lifesaver, a national non-profit safety education group seeking to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railroad rights of way, has specific recommendations that can help keep you and your family safe.

First, when battling winter conditions, slow down, especially when weather and/or visibility are poor. Snow-covered or gridlocked roads hamper safety. Watch for advance warning signs (most often a yellow sign with "R X R") indicating railroad tracks across the road ahead. Be prepared to slow down or stop well before the crossing, because compromised road conditions could result in longer stopping distances than normal. Trains are wider than their tracks, so if you stop near or at a crossing, be sure you are at least 15 feet from the tracks.

Trains also have exceptionally long stopping distances because immensely heavy train cars riding on steel wheels will take a substantial period of time to come to a halt even after the engineer sees an object in its path. Leave extra space between your vehicle and the crossing, which is often marked with a crossbuck symbol, flashing red lights or a gate, so if a car nudges you from behind, it won't push you into the crossing.

Look and listen. Bad weather and dirty car windows can severely limit your vision. Clean off all snow and ice that might block vision before you drive, including snow on the roof and hood that can slide or blow onto your windows or those of cars behind you. Turn your head to see around mirrors, passengers and any visual obstructions inside your car. Don't rely on sight alone, either. Listen for the sound of a train, even though it may be muffled by snow and obscured by the sound of your radio and the heater.

Each year dozens of drivers are killed needlessly because they chose to ignore warning lights and crossing gates. Don't take a chance by driving around lowered gates you think are "malfunctioning." They might know something you don't; namely, the arrival of a train is imminent. 

When you are waiting at a railroad crossing, be aware that the passing of one railroad train doesn't mean another is not right behind it. Watch for the "second train" whether it is behind the first or coming from the opposite direction. Always look both ways before proceeding.

Finally, if your vehicle gets stuck on a railroad crossing, don't stay with it in an effort to get it going again. Your car can be replaced; your life can't. Instead, quickly exit the vehicle, move away from the tracks, and call 911 or the railroad number displayed on the sign at the crossing. Mention any nearby landmarks, particularly the "DOT" number displayed at the crossing if you can see it.

Operation Lifesaver's 3,000 certified presenters throughout the U.S. and Canada are trained to give free safety talks to community groups, schools, school bus drivers, truck drivers and community organizations to raise awareness of the need for caution around railroad tracks and trains. More information can be found at the Operation Livesaver Web site. To schedule a free Operation Lifesaver presentation, which might liven up your next potluck, or for information about becoming a volunteer, contact your state's coordinator through the Web site or call the national office at (800) 537-6224.

Based in Villeperce, France, Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about automobiles and the human condition. He frequently takes the train.

Don't Veer for Deer

February might be the cruelest month, but October and November are two of the most dangerous months -- especially in upper Midwest states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  There, cars encounter deer in an intimate and sometimes deadly way in staggering numbers.  While the uninitiated warning against collisions might seem as useful as warning against meteor showers or being struck by errant bowling balls, the fact is that there are an estimated 1.75 million white-tailed deer in the state of Michigan alone, and neighboring states are home to similar numbers of the animals.

Because car-deer crashes in Michigan cause at least $130 million in damage annually, or an average of $2,000 per vehicle incident, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm has proclaimed October as "Michigan Car-Deer Crash Safety Awareness Month." The Michigan Deer Crash Coalition (MDCC), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has a simple-to-remember piece of advice for motorists driving in areas populated by deer this fall. The safety message is "Don't Veer for Deer!"  And while it may seem counterintuitive to intentionally refrain from trying to avoid a collision with one of the animals, there is a good reason for the recommendation.

"Statistics show that most motorist deaths and injuries occur when drivers swerve to avoid hitting the deer and strike a fixed object, such as a tree or another vehicle," said coalition Chairman Jack Peet of AAA Michigan. "No one wants to see a deer destroyed, but striking the animal is often the safest action."

While in 2005 Michigan experienced a reduction in the number of total car-deer crashes, the number is still staggering. According to the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center, there were 58,741 deer-vehicle crashes in 2005. While that's down from the 62,707 crashes reported in 2004, it is still a sobering statistic. More than 17 percent of all crashes in Michigan involve deer. Last year, nine motorists were killed and 1,700 were injured as the result of a car-deer crash, compared to three killed and 1,647 injured the previous year. Further, since many crashes with the animals go unreported, the actual crash numbers are much higher.

Nearly half of all collisions with deer crashes occur in the October-to-December mating season when deer are very active (so to speak).  Car-deer collisions spike again in spring, when the season's first grass appears along highway rights-of-way, luring unsuspecting white-tails.

"Deer are often seen calmly feeding near highways, but when they panic, they may appear in front of your windshield in no time at all," said Penney Melchoir, Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division field coordinator. "Drivers must be prepared -- look for other deer following the first in a line and keep an eye for deer doubling back once they have moved out of a traffic lane."

If you live in the "Deer Belt" and are driving in a rural or even suburban area, you should "think deer" whenever you are behind the wheel, and drive defensively, as if a deer can appear at any moment -- because it can. And all motorists should remember to always fasten their safety belts. Safety belts often make the difference in surviving a serious crash, and hitting a deer can result in a serious crash.

Based in Cleveland, auto journalist Luigi Fraschini writes frequently about safety issues.