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January 17, 2023

How to Drive With Dogs Safely

Canines love to ride in cars, so it’s up to their owners to transport them securely.

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Many owners take their pooches everywhere, including on road trips and around town, which is why auto insurance companies offer coverage for pets. Although most canines enjoy riding in cars, their owners may not realize how dangerous transporting unrestrained dogs can be. Unrestrained dogs of any size riding in vehicles can both cause damage and become injured themselves. Find out how to keep your dog safe while taking them along for the ride.

Safety Tips for Driving With Your Dog

Back Seat

Like with humans, the safest place for dogs is in the back seat of a car. If your pooch rides in the front — either on your lap or in the passenger seat — they are more likely to distract you as the driver, particularly on a long trip. Also, since front seat airbags can deploy even during minor fender benders, the force of the bag could crush your dog, even if he is secured inside a carrier.

TIP:

To ensure your dogs are safe, place them in the back seat, whether you have small or large dogs.

Seat Belts

It’s important for your dog to be secured when riding in the back seat, especially on a longer trip. Dog seat belts help keep your canine safe.

A dog seat belt consists of a safety harness with a loop to secure it to the car’s seat belt. The safety harnesses should have thick, padded straps to distribute impact force more widely. The tethers connecting the harness to the animal should be short and attach at the dog’s back, not their neck.

When secured in the back seat, the dog should be able to sit upright or lie down easily. Dog seat belts are ideal for medium- to large-sized animals, although smaller canines could wear them as well.

Crates

Travel crates provide a safe way for smaller dogs to ride in vehicles. Crates also reduce motion sickness for the animal. Choose one made from a strong material, such as aluminum, rather than plastic, which is not as strong and provides less ventilation. Some travel crates also have padding to give your pet additional protection and comfort.

Pick a travel crate large enough for the animal to stand, turn around, and lie down easily. The crate must have proper ventilation, too. Do not put crates on the back seat, as they can be better secured on the floor of the vehicle. For additional safety, secure the crate with a strap to prevent the carrier from sliding around in the car.

Barriers

Putting up a pet barrier behind the front seat can create a safe environment for larger canines. If you have an SUV or hatchback vehicle, you can even install a barrier between the back seat and the open trunk area.

Barriers come in a variety of styles to fit different vehicle types. Available types of barriers include steel cages (which also prevent the dog from chewing or clawing) and mesh nets, which you can install between the front and back seats or between the back seats and the cargo area. Hammock-style barriers attach to the front seat backs and lay over the back seat, creating a flat surface to keep the dog off the back seat floor.

It’s important to note that while barriers will keep your dog in the back of your vehicle, they do not provide a way to secure your canine in the event of an accident like dog seat belts or crates do.

NOTE:

Don’t rely solely on barriers to keep your dog safe in the car. You’ll also need either a carrier or seat belt harness to secure your pet.

Don’t Let Their Heads Hang Out the Window

While many dogs love to feel the rush of air in their ears during a car ride, allowing Fido to hang his head out of the car window could lead to injury. For example, dirt or dust could harm your dog’s eyes. The wind in a dog’s ears could irritate their soft earflaps and, at high speeds, could cause swelling or trauma to the ear.1

Where Your Dog Should Not Ride for Pet Safety

Driver’s Lap

As mentioned, letting your small pooch sit on your lap while you drive might seem like a good idea, but this type of pet transportation distracts the driver. Additionally, more injuries happen to pets sitting on drivers’ laps because of impacts from the steering wheel and other driver’s side equipment.

FYI:

No matter the size of your dog, allowing them to sit on your lap while you’re driving is dangerous.

Front Passenger Seat

As noted earlier, sitting in the front passenger seat, even when secured, is dangerous for your dog. Potential injuries include your pet being crushed by airbag deployment or connecting with the windshield in an accident.

Truck Bed

Animals who ride in the back of an open truck bed face other potential dangers. Dogs could jump out of vehicles while stopped or in motion. Canines riding in open truck beds could also be injured in rear collisions or hit by passing objects, such as road debris or tree branches.

Traveling With Dogs Statistics

  • Distracted driving behaviors: While only 19 percent of drivers say they engage in distracting behavior when traveling with their dogs, many admit to giving their pet affection (48 percent), allowing their pet to move freely from seat to seat (33 percent) and playing with their pet while driving (7 percent), according to a 2016 AAA Consumer Pulse study. In addition, the same study reports 26 percent let their pooches sit on their laps, while 15 percent give their dogs food, water, or treats while behind the wheel.2
  • Animal restraints: Only 18 percent of pet owners always restrain their animals when driving, according to the 2016 AAA Consumer Pulse study. 62 percent rarely or never use pet restraint devices when traveling with their animals.
  • Risky driving behaviors: During a survey period of 30 hours behind the wheel, the number of risky driving behaviors skyrocketed from 274 with a properly restrained canine to 649 with a dog that was loose in the vehicle.3

Whatever size dog you have, properly restrain the animal while driving to make your trip safe for you and for your pooch.

Citations

  1. Dog’s Head Out the Car Window – A Dangerous Habit. TripsWithPets.com.
    https://www.tripswithpets.com/twp-blog/dogs-head-out-the-car-window-a-dangerous-habit

  2. 2016 AAA Consumer Pulse Survey. AAA. (2016, Apr).
    https://us.vocuspr.com/Newsroom/ViewAttachment.aspx?SiteName=AAACS&Entity=PRAsset&AttachmentType=F&EntityID=108376&AttachmentID=5b15ff1f-72b7-4632-bb5d-b917930d5c91

  3. Keeping Pets Safe on the Road. Volva USA. (2019).
    https://www.media.volvocars.com/us/en-us/media/documentfile/256407/keeping-pets-safe-on-the-road