Unrestrained pets cause more than 30,000 accidents annually, according to a recent AAA report. The problem isn't new, but has gained attention in recent years by the issue of distracted driving coming more into the public's consciousness.

In 2009, 5,474 people were killed and 448,000 injured in crashes caused by distracted drivers in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Author Stephen King suffered several broken bones and a collapsed lung in 1999 when he was hit by a driver who claimed he was distracted by his dog.

Eight states currently require drivers to restrain their dogs when they are in an open area of the vehicle, such as the bed of a truck, but a new bill recently introduced in Rhode Island would slap those who drive with an unrestrained pooch with an $85 fine for first offenses, a $100 fine for second offenses and a $125 fine for subsequent offenses.

Keeping your pet safe while you're driving also makes good financial sense, as anyone who's ever gotten a through-the-roof veterinarian bill knows. The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies offers insurance to protect your dog (or cat) in the event of an auto crash, paying up to $1000 if a customer's pet is hurt or dies as a result of a car accident.

Progressive offers the following tips to help keep Fido safe:

Don't let dogs ride with their head out of the window.

They can easily be injured by debris flying into their eyes.

Get your pet used to the car and make them feel comfortable.

Often, the only time pets ride in the car is when they're visiting the vet, so they may not always associate a car ride with positive feelings and may even be afraid to ride in the car.  Teach them instead that car rides can be fun by taking them for short road trips to a dog park or a friend's house for a play date.

Make sure your pet has proper identification.

Just in case he or she gets lost while traveling, you want to be sure your pet is wearing up-to-date ID tags with an emergency contact phone number and what, if any, reward is offered for the pet's safe return.

Prepare a doggie bag.

Make sure it contains clean-up supplies, a towel, portable feeding/watering bowls, food and water, a pet first aid kit, and toys to keep them busy and well behaved.
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