There are few things more terrifying than those few moments before impact when you realise you’re about to be in a very serious car accident and that there is absolutely nothing you can do to avoid it.
Recently, I was stopped at pedestrian lights, waiting for them to change to green when I heard the squeal of tyres behind me. A glance in the rear vision mirror told me that a wannabe truck (half van/half truck) was going to impact the car behind me at full speed; simultaneously wiping me out and there was a good chance that I’d be pushed into the car stopped in front of me too. If that happened then the car in front was going to hit the pedestrian that was crossing… Yeah it wasn’t pretty and there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent myself being hit. I had nowhere to go.
With the force of the impact, the contents of my car were thrown forward into the front of the car with me. My biochemistry textbook smacked me nicely on my elbow in its flight. (I always suspected that book was intrinsically evil.) My microbiology textbook came off the backseat, skidding under my chair to land at my feet. The only thing that didn’t move was the empty pet carrier (I’d been too lazy to put it away after taking Morgy to the vet the day before). It was strapped to the backseat. Which explains my inspiration for this post.
A lot of people like to travel with their birds. A trip in the car is a fun outing. They like their bird to see where they are going and the apparent “fun” side of things tends to impact on exactly how their bird travels. Restraining a bird in a car is surprisingly a contentious issue. Raise this topic on a parrot forum and watch people’s claws come out. Some people are very attached to their window perches or to having their bird travel loose on their shoulder and they don’t want to hear people say it’s a bad idea.
If you are in an accident similar to the one I was in, you don’t want a bird to become a flying missile in the way that my evil biochemistry textbook did. Shower perches belong in the shower. A suction cap is very unlikely to hold a perch in place during an accident. A stable unmoving perch is extremely important to a bird in an accident. You’d be surprised how tightly a bird can grip a perch (think of wild birds in gale force winds). If that perch becomes airborne with the bird… the chances of your bird impacting a windscreen? Well it’s common sense, or at least I’d hope it is. If it isn’t, click here to read a blog post Patty wrote a few years ago because it will change your mind about having a bird loose in the car. That story will haunt you like it still haunts me.
The safest place for a pet in a moving car is in a travel crate/travel cage. A crate/cage allows them to be safely strapped in, so that they don’t become airborne in an accident. In the case of a bird, it would also give them a stable perch to cling to. That’s not to say that they won’t get hurt in an accident. They still could get hurt in a crate but they are less likely to in the more common type of car accidents.
In most cars, the safest place for a crate to be strapped in is the back seat. Why? Think about airbags. Most cars have them nowadays. There is a reason most cars having warning labels that warn against seating children in the front seat. An activated airbag can cause injuries if something other than an adult human is seated in the front seat.
The best thing to use to strap a crate/cage in is obviously going to be an inbuilt seatbelt. A seatbelt isn’t going to fit around every sized crate, so sometimes it is necessary to find an alternative. Personally, I use dog straps. They’re fairly easy to find as most pet stores stock them, they’re on ebay and even my vet sells them. Designed to stop a dog jumping around a car (note they won’t protect a dog in an accident) they come in a variety of sizes. They still slot into a seatbelt fitting but clip to the cage or the crate.
Some people use luggage straps (called Octopus straps in some parts of the world) to strap a crate in. These can be handy for taller cages/crates. The easiest way is to place the hook around the poles holding in a seat’s front headrest and run it through the cage to hook onto a rear headrest pole. The problem with this is that they can come unhooked fairly easily. So if you can get a strap that fits into a seat belt fitting, it’s a lot safer.
Personally, I find luggage straps useful to reinforce the bases of my travel cages. If the cage clips ever come undone, the base of my cage won’t fall off because I have a reinforcing strap. I do know people who have lost their bird due to a base falling off in transit. It’s something to think about.
Meanwhile in terms of the accident I was in? I had luckily left enough space between my car and the car that was stopped in front of me. I couldn’t save myself but in the split second that I had to react, I was able to use that space and spin my wheel so that I was pushed off the road towards a tree instead of into the car in front. This meant that the car in front wasn’t pushed into the pedestrian who was crossing the road. My brakes managed to stop me hitting the tree with maybe an inch to spare. The wannabe truck and the car behind me were so badly damaged that they weren’t repairable. My car while damaged was still driveable and has since been repaired. All three drivers (myself included) were in shock and suffering whiplash. Fuel and radiator fluid were spraying from the wannabe truck, bits of car and glass were everywhere. My biochemistry textbook still has a nice dint in it and my elbow has a book-shaped bruise. The outcome could easily have been a lot worse – maybe even fatal for the pedestrian.
It was a horrible wake up call to me. You can be doing nothing wrong (not even moving) and can still get wiped out on the road by some idiot that isn’t watching where he is going. All I could think was how lucky it was that I hadn’t had any animals in the car with me (unusual for me) and how lucky it was that no one was seriously hurt.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.