Your Dog Can’t Ride Shotgun! Keep Your Pets Safe in the Car
It's road trip time! When you're going on a long car ride, it's always nice to have a companion. And what better companion than man's best friend — your beloved pup! As you're driving, your dog Max is sitting in the passenger seat, hanging out the open window, getting some fresh air … Except, if you get in an accident, Max won't be very safe. Although there's no better feeling than looking over and seeing your pooch happily wagging his tail in excitement, it's important to keep in mind a dog's safety in the car as well as your own.
Keeping Your Dog Safe in the Car
Just as humans should always wear a seatbelt in the car, so should pets. You might be thinking, "Well, my dog would look pretty silly buckled into a seatbelt." And that's true. Human seatbelts are not compatible with animals, and they become ineffective when your dog is buckled in the same way as a person. If a dog is wearing a human seatbelt during a car accident, the belt is more likely to cause an injury than to prevent one. Without a proper pet restraint, a dog may run free after a car accident and further endanger itself and others. Additionally, having a dog that is scared and running loose inside the car can delay or prevent first responders from acting quickly once on the scene, as the dog may block them from getting close enough to assess the situation.
In the event of a car accident, the last thing you want to be worried about is coverage; take a look at your auto insurance policy now to find out whether or not your pet is included in your coverage.
In the state of New Jersey, another incentive to make sure your dog is strapped in while driving is the threat of a fine. In 2012, the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission set out to remind drivers that having an unrestrained pet in the car falls under the category of distracted driving, and can lead to a $250–$1,000 fine. A pet crawling up in the driver's seat or running around the backseat of the car can lead to an accident and, in the event of a crash, an unrestrained pet can turn into a projectile, causing injury to itself and to others.
Leash or Harness? Crate or Barrier?
Knowing all of this, how can pet owners keep their precious pal safe in the car? Some dog owners' biggest concern is keeping their dog in the back seat, away from being a distraction while at the wheel. Others may be looking for the safest way to crate a dog for a long trip. No matter what, we're here to offer some suggestions for responsible pet ownership and transportation.
Types of Harnesses
Unlike for humans, pet products are considered self-regulated, meaning any claim could be listed on a product's packaging and marketing. How can you know which products are safe for your pets? In 2011, The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) was developed in response to this question. The idea was born of Lindsey Wolko's experience when her dog, Maggie, suffered injuries while wearing a harness meant to protect her in the event of a car accident. After the incident, Wolko set out to test different types of harnesses to allow pet owners to confidently purchase products meant to protect their furry friends.
Based on research conducted by CPS, there are several safety harness options available for dogs of nearly all sizes. Each of these harnesses has multi-point restraints to ensure that your dog will be protected in the event of a car crash. While these harnesses are perfect for smaller dogs, they may not be as effective for dogs over 100 lbs, and there unfortunately is not a CPS certified restraint on the market for extra large dogs. The upfront cost may be steep, but consider the cost of safety for your beloved pup. They'll be grateful for the added protection!
Owners whose priority is to keep pets confined to the back seat but able to roam freely may want to look at other options. Some restraints connect to a dog's harness like a leash, attaching to the seatbelt in the car. While using these options may not protect your dog, this is still a safer option that prevents them from jumping into your lap when you least expect it. This type of restraint can also be useful for dogs who love to wander around the backseat, compelling you to constantly check the rearview mirror for them, leading to distracted driving and the potential for accidents. A restrained dog means safety for you and others while on the road.
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Types of Crates
Some dogs may not be the best travel companions. Because they whine or make a mess, using a harness or a leash might not be the best solution to keeping them safe. If this is the case with your furry companion, a travel crate or carrier may be a better option to maintain your pet’s safety.
CPS has approved several crates and carriers through their rigorous testing. They have approved crates with options for dogs weighing up to 75 lbs. For small dogs, the versatility of a carrier might be important, and CPS has approved options that suit dogs (or cats!) up to 20 lbs.
When using a crate or carrier, it is important to place it in the safest area of the car as well. In the event of an accident, the front and the rear of the car are known as “crumple zones,” designed to absorb impact to keep the rest of the car, and its passengers, safe. For this reason, don’t place your pets in the trunk!
Whether you choose to use a crate or a carrier, the most crucial step is following the instructions to properly secure the device in your car. Some may require purchasing additional straps, while others may use certain features such as restraints designed for car seats. It is important to confirm that the crate or carrier is compatible with your vehicle before purchasing it. By using the straps incorrectly, you may be putting your pet’s, and your own, safety at risk.
Other Methods of Pet Restraints
A common choice that is not safety rated is a barrier to prevent your dog from poking its head around the driver’s seat. Although the barrier would not be able to protect your pooch in the event of an accident, it can still be a step towards keeping your dog safe in the car. By installing a barricade between the front and the back seat, you’ll limit the potential to cause a distracted driving incident spurred by your dog’s morbid curiosity to sniff out the gas pedal. Another benefit of a barrier is allowing your pet some freedom in the car, keeping them occupied and hopefully complaint free.
For larger dogs and larger vehicles such as an SUV, a barricade blocking off the trunk from the rest of the car is a valid option. There are cloth or metal options, some temporary and some more permanent. Again, this alternative is not safety rated, but still can lead to a safer driving experience for you and your dog.
Keeping Your Dog Safe in the Car — Beyond Using a Restraint
While all of these methods of restraints are important to maintain safety in the event of an accident, more often than not you will be driving problem-free with your dog as your companion. Using a pet restraint is just the beginning to keep them happy and healthy while traveling.
During long car rides, you may choose to delay eating or drinking to decrease the amount of time spent at the rest stop. However, your pet is not able to control its appetite or need to relieve itself. It is important to incorporate stops along the way to let your dog out to stretch its legs and go to the bathroom. You might also want to plan your trip around your dog’s feeding schedule. Feeding your dog on a car ride is not ideal, because they could experience motion sickness. Plan ahead and make sure to schedule a meal a few hours before you head out.
When driving with a furry friend, it's also important to keep in mind their temperature. In the summertime, the interior of a car can get much hotter than the temperature outside. Make sure to keep the air conditioning running to prevent your dog from becoming dehydrated or overheating. If you are using a crate, you can purchase accessories such as fans to keep the crate nice and cool.
Once you have all of the equipment and supplies needed to keep your dog safe in the car, you’re ready to take on any type of travel! Pets may need some time to get accustomed to the new environment, so test the waters before embarking on your journey. Make their environment as comfortable as possible, by making sure they can see out the window while in their harness or that they have their favorite toy in their crate. These small adaptations can make the new atmosphere more easily adaptable. It’s never fun having to leave your pup behind on a long trip, but with these modifications, you won’t have to!