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Did you know that an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a car crash at only 30 mph would exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force? “It can turn the dog into a missile that could seriously hurt not only him, but also you and your passengers,” says Nancy White, a spokeswoman for AAA, which partners with pet manufacturer Kurgo in an annual survey about dogs in vehicles.
This is just one of many reasons why dogs and driving don’t often go together — unless you take appropriate precautions before hitting the road, including the proper dog car restraint.
Dogs in Cars: The Rules About Dog Car Restraints
Federal laws don’t really cover issues that pertain to pets and vehicles, says White. And states are usually not able to properly enforce regulations — if they even exist. As a result, dogs in cars are frequently a free-for-all, with 84 percent of survey respondents in 2011 saying they bring their pets on trips but do not use a restraint. The No. 1 reason why? “My dog is calm and I do not think he/she needs a restraint.” Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed admitted they never even considered getting a restraint.
As a result, many of us have seen disasters waiting to happen: The dog hanging outside of a rolled-down car window, a pup running from side to side in the backseat, a lap dog snoozing in the driver’s lap, and unrestrained dogs moving around in the back of a pickup truck. “A friend’s dog actually jumped out of an open car window while the vehicle was moving,” says Heather Hunter, public relations manager for AAA. “The owner chased the dog down in traffic,” says Hunter. Thankfully, both the owner and the pet reunited unscathed, but they took terrible risks.
Dogs Can Distract Drivers
When we think of distracted drivers, most of us consider cell phone usage, notes White. As a result, lawmakers have taken steps to curb calls and texts in cars. But what about people who drive with dogs? Last summer’s AAA/Kurgo survey found that respondents engage in the following activities:
- 52 percent pet their dog as they drive
- 23 percent use their hands/arms to restrict the dog’s movement or to hold the dog in place when braking
- 19 percent use their hands/arms to keep their dog from climbing from the back seat to the front seat
- 18 percent reach into the back seat to interact with the dog
- 17 percent allow the dog to sit in their laps or to otherwise be held while driving
“For every two seconds that you take your eyes off the road, your chances of experiencing a crash double,” says White.
Car Trips: Use Dog Car Restraints and Travel Safely
Certainly, it’s OK to bring your dog along on trips. That’s a necessity in some cases, such as veterinary visits. But you needn’t leave your dog behind on fun adventures if you take these steps:
- Restrain your dog in vehicles. “Safeguard your dog just as you would a child,” says White. “They should ride restrained in the back seat.”
- Research proper dog car restraints. The restraint is your choice, based on your particular dog. Hunter, who has two Labrador Retrievers, advises that smaller dogs be placed in a crate. (Crates require a lot of room, so larger ones often won’t fit well in vehicles.) Other restraints include harnesses, seat belts and vehicle seats that are designed for dogs. Check with your veterinarian and local pet store to see which one might be best for your dog. White says harnesses can make it easier to get heavy dogs into the car.
- Limit window access. If you must roll down the window(s), do so just a crack so that your dog cannot stick any part of its body, even the tip of its snout, through the window. “I know it sounds un-fun, but restrained dogs should not be right at the window,” says White.
“We take our dogs with us a lot when we travel,” says Hunter, “but we always use harnesses for them.” When other AAA staff with dogs (and many have beloved canines at home) read the survey results and saw some of the data about crashes, they too purchased dog car restraints. And if you have a car-happy kitty, note that many companies make restraints for cats too.