Few people who travel with their animals are aware there are laws in most states governing and regulating pet travel in vehicles. As an example, the state of Hawaii has a law prohibiting driving with a dog on your lap, and the state of New Jersey can fine drivers they feel are incorrectly transporting a pet in a vehicle for as much as $1,000.1 Not only can it be against the law to drive with a pet in your lap, it can also be dangerous for your pet.
You would never let your child travel in the car without a seat belt (and a car seat, depending on their age), because the child could be badly hurt, even in a relatively minor accident. Animals are no different—your pet can literally become a flying missile during an auto accident, injuring themselves and even hurting other human passengers in the vehicle. Consider the following statistics related to having dogs and other pets travel in vehicles with their owners:
- About two-thirds of dog owners admit they have engaged in a distracting behavior while driving with their dogs;
- Nearly six in 10 dog owners have driven with their dog in their car at least once a month over the past year;2
- Only 16 percent of dog owners say they use some sort of restraint for their dog when the dog is in the vehicle;2
- Distracting activities dog owners typically engage in while driving with their dog include:
- Petting the dog;
- Allowing the dog to sit in their lap;
- Turning and reaching into the back seat to interact with the dog;
- Using hands to prevent dog from climbing into the front seat;
- Using hands to restrict the dog’s movement;
- Taking a photo of the dog;
- Playing with the dog, and
- Feeding or giving treats to the dog.
If your unrestrained dog weighs a mere 10 pounds, a crash which occurs at 50 mph exerts 500 pounds of force, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog exerts 2,400 pounds of force during a 30- mph crash.2 When you consider that looking away from the road while you are driving, for even two seconds, effectively doubles your risk of having an auto accident, you can see why it is important to implement safety measures when your dog is in the vehicle.2
Safety Tips for Driving with Your Dog in the Vehicle
A front airbag can be deadly to a young child sitting in the front seat, and equally deadly to a dog. To ensure the safety of your dog, consider the following safety tips:
- A safety harness for your dog which fits around the dog’s body and clips into a seat belt in your car can not only keep your pet safe, it can keep you from getting a ticket for allowing your dog to be unrestrained in your vehicle.
- A crate may be an even better option to ensure your dog’s safety while in a vehicle. It is important that you select the right size crate for your dog, and that you choose a crate which has been crash-tested and safety-certified, preferably aluminum or plastic, reinforced with fiberglass.
- If your vehicle has power windows, make sure they are turned off before you take your dog for a ride. A dog can accidentally open the window with their paw, and can also accidentally close the window—while their head is sticking out.
- Never leave your dog in the car alone on a hot day. Even if the temperature is only 85 degrees, the temperature inside your car can reach 102 degrees within ten minutes—even with the window cracked. A mere fifteen minutes in a hot car can cause your dog to suffer brain damage.3
- Just as you should never allow your dog to stick his head out the window, you should also never allow your dog to ride in the back of an open truck. Even the most well-trained dog can jump or fall out of a truck bed.
Aside from the above safety tips, always make sure you bring plenty of food and water for your dog, and, depending on how far you will be traveling, make sure you stop at least every 2-3 hours to let your pet get out, do his business and stretch his legs.