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Dogs rule but not in the car, survey says
In Transit
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Give your dog an inch in the car, and he will take a mile.


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Published: 8/22/2010 12:03 AM

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Driving with pets can be a dangerous distraction unless you exercise common-sense precautions, the AAA reported last week.

I could have told them that four years ago when the first warning growl came from the back seat. It slowly crescendoed into a steady and penetrating bark varied with crying and clawing at the window (both humans and canine) all 480 miles to Oulu, Wis.

What happened to our adorable dog who used to enjoy rides in the car? That dog is lost, lost to an evil doppelgänger that takes over his body as soon as he enters the back seat, determined to protect us from all objects outside the car.

That jogger? Deserves a bark. The little old lady? Bark-worthy. The car idling next to us at a red light or the SUV passing us? It's bark time.

Perfect pet owners will no doubt scoff, recommend obedience training, seat belts, bribery or high-tech collars. We've tried them all.

For a period, I used a spray bottle with water and treats to punish barking and reward silence. It worked for about four months, until a trip to Maine brought Cujo back with a vengeance.

Since then, we have bought two harnesses. They kept the dog quiet for 30 minutes while he figured out how to escape the confines, emerging triumphant and ready for a good bark.

Then, there was the $100 ultrasonic anti-barking device - the revolutionary method to train dogs to cease and desist. Effect on cacophony? Zero.

Most recently we bought headgear that promised a calming atmosphere by restricting the dog's vision. Worked like a charm for about 40 minutes until our furry Houdini broke free.

Now, we drive like fiends en route to the vet or groomer, staring ahead stoicly as other drivers glare. For long trips we rent an SUV that will hold a crate in the back - because, yes - pets take your focus away from the road.

Which brings me back to AAA. A survey of dog owners found nearly 60 percent admitted to engaging in distracting behavior while driving with their pets. This included petting, letting Fido sit on their laps, playing, or giving food and water.

Not good, experts say. Taking your eyes off the road even for a few seconds can cause a crash. An unrestrained dog could become a projectile - a 10-pound dog in a 50 mph crash can exert 500 pounds of pressure, the AAA said. Also, if you're in an accident, an unsecured, traumatized dog will create problems for emergency responders trying to help.

To avoid a tragedy that could affect you, your pet or fellow travelers, AAA and the Humane Society of the United States recommends restraining harnesses for dogs. Other good advice includes keeping your dog in the back seat and nixing the head out of the window routine. And, if you're driving with a cat, the Humane Society suggests a carrier.

Flotsam and jetsam

• A fleet of alternate fuel vehicles cruised into Argonne National Laboratory Friday, including the diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI, also known as Green Car Journal's 2010 Green Car of the Year award winner. Runners-up were the Honda Insight hybrid, Toyota Prius and Mercury Milan hybrid. Argonne Center for Transportation Research scientist Steve Ciatti said diesel's come a long way since the 1982 Volkswagen Rabbit he drove in university - with reductions in harmful emissions and significant fuel efficiency. "Anyone who gets behind the wheel of one these cars will be convinced that clean diesel makes sense," he said.

• Metra will be spending about $560 million to purchase 160 new rail cars for its Electric Line trains, serving the South Side of Chicago and South suburbs. The money will come from state funds.

• The RTA holds budget hearings this week at: 6 p.m. Monday, The Centre of Elgin, 100 Symphony Way; 6 p.m. Wednesday at the DuPage County Administration Center, 421 N. County Farm Road, Wheaton; and 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Lake County, 1200 University Center Drive, Grayslake.