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Do Dogs Need to Wear A Seatbelt In The Car?

By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz September 22, 2021

Almost all dogs will travel in a car in their lifetime. Trips to the vet, groomer, boarding facility, or fun outings such as a trip to the beach or a hike will most likely require traveling in a car. Dogs that go to doggie day care or to work with their parent may even go for car rides on a daily basis. We know the importance of wearing a seatbelt when traveling in a car to keep ourselves safe in case of an accident, but what about our dogs? This article will explore the different options that exist to keep you and your dog safe when traveling together in a car. Moreover, some tips on what option might be best for your situation will also be provided.

Do Dogs Need To Wear A Seatbelt In The Car?

Restraining a dog while traveling in a car is highly recommended. This not only protects our dogs, but also the humans traveling in the car with them. Firstly, dogs moving freely throughout a vehicle can be a distraction to the driver. They may jump in the driver’s seat, obstruct the driver’s view, get under the driver’s legs, or vocalize causing the driver to lose their focus on the road (Huisingh et al., 2016; Blunck et al., 2013; Mariti et al., 2012). Secondly, if an accident were to occur, dogs could become projectiles causing injury to other passengers in the car (Zeleny and Grusova, 2015). By restraining your dog in your car, they are more likely to remain secure and are much less likely to be ejected from the vehicle in the event of an accident (Zeleny and Grusova, 2015). In a survey of 100 veterinarians, 22 had reported witnessing a dog dying as a result of a road accident, while 18 reported treating injuries related to them being poorly restrained in the car (Anon, 2016). Despite this risk of injury or death, it is estimated that only 55% of people restrain their dogs during travel in the United States, compared to 67% of people in Australia and 72% of people in the United Kingdom (Hazel et al., 2019).

What Products Exist To Ensure Your Dog Is Safe In The Car?

Thankfully, there are a variety of products available on the market to fit a range of budgets, dog sizes, and car styles. Some of the most popular include:

  • Safety harnesses – These are harnesses specifically designed for being worn in the car. They typically include more padding and are designed to help distribute forces equally on the dog’s body to prevent injury during an accident. They are widely available in pet supply stores, are affordable, easy to store, and can be used on walks as well (Zeleny and Grusova, 2015).
  • Tethers – Tethers clip to your dog’s harness on one end and to the car on the other, anchoring your dog to a solid location. Many tethers are designed to click right into the seat belt slot, while others may attach to the head rest or to other anchor points within the vehicle.
  • Crates or carriers – Crates or carriers may be used to keep your dog secure while traveling. Some have straps to anchor the carrier to the car, providing extra security. Carriers or crates should be heavy duty enough to prevent your dog from being crushed on impact, should have plenty of ventilation, and should allow your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around comfortably.
  • Booster seats – Booster seats are an available option for securing smaller dogs. These are typically padded baskets that attach to your car’s seat and include a tether to keep your dog in the booster seat while traveling.
  • Cargo barriers – Barriers between the cargo and passenger portions of the car is another option to keep dogs from being a distraction or from harming passengers in an accident, however these offer less protection to the dogs themselves.

In surveys of pet owners, it was found that cages or crates placed in the cargo area were the most commonly used method of restraint in the United States and the United Kingdom. In Australia it was found that a harness with a tether attached to a seat buckle was the most common form of restraint used (Hazel et al., 2019). While cost and ease of use factor into decisions regarding what method to use, the size of the dog can also impact what method is going to provide the best protection for your dog.

What Options Are Safest For Little Dogs?

Little dogs have many options to keep them restrained while traveling in the car. They can easily fit in booster seats and their crates or kennels often fit nicely in any size car. There are also many harnesses and tether systems that can fit their bodies. Unfortunately, when deciding on the safest option, there is little information related to how well the product will perform in an actual accident. There are no standard test protocols or monitoring standards for the production of dog car safety products (Zeleny and Grusova, 2015). This means that even products marketed to be safe, could function inadequately in an actual accident, sometimes with tragic consequences. In one case study of a dog that sustained serious injuries following a car crash, it was found that the safety harness being used to restrain the dog may have actually led to some of the dog’s injuries due to the force it exerted on the dog’s body (Zeleny and Grusova, 2015).

Thankfully, the Center for Pet Safety has been conducting safety tests on pet car safety products and has been sharing information with consumers on which products have been ‘crash test certified’, meaning they met performance standards in test crash scenarios. To date, they have certified 3 safety harnesses, 2 carriers, and 4 crates. The Rocketeer Pack by ZuGoPet is one such harness that is certified and designed for small dogs up to 25 pounds. The Sleepypod Clickit Sport and Terrain models both are certified harnesses that come in small sizes for small dogs. Other safe options for small dogs include the Away Pet Carrier, Gunner Kennel G1, and the Sleepypod carrier.

What Options Are Best For Large Dogs?

Large dogs may have less options available for restraining them. For instance, booster seats are going to be too small for them. Additionally, if you have a small car, a crate large enough to hold them may not fit. Cargo barriers are good options for keeping the dog away from the driver’s seat, however they are not the safest options. According to the Center for Pet Safety, there are two certified safety harnesses that work for large dogs (Sleepypod Clickit Sport – rated up to 90 pounds, and the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain – rated up to 110 pounds). Gunner Kennel and Lucky Kennel both make excellent crates for large dogs that have been safety approved. These travel crates should be used with anchor straps for optimum protection.

Where Is The Safest Place For Your Dog When Traveling Inside The Car?

Depending on the restraint system used, the safest locations in the car for your dog to travel are the backseat or the cargo area. If using a tether or booster seat, the dog should be placed in the back seat. If traveling in a carrier or crate, they should be placed either on the floor of the back seat or secured in the cargo area.

Dogs should never travel in your lap as they can be a distraction or may interfere with your ability to drive. Furthermore, airbags in the driver’s seat and passenger seat could cause injury or death to your dog in the event of an accident (NRMA Insurance, 2014).

How To Make Sure Your Dog Is Comfortable Traveling In The Car?

One major way you can help improve your dog’s comfort in the car is to make sure they are comfortable with their form of restraint before traveling in the car. Allow your dog to wear their safety harness in the house or on walks to get used to wearing it. Introduce your dog to travel crates or carriers in a safe and comfortable environment where they can explore them on their own and learn that they are comforting places to be. When traveling in the car, you may want to give your dog a bone or their favorite chew toy to keep them entertained. You can help them cope with stress from traveling by placing familiar scented blankets or dog beds in kennels or on the seats to encourage your dog to relax while traveling.

Are There Seatbelt Laws For Dogs?

The use of seatbelts for human occupants is mandated almost globally (World Health Organization, 2015). For dogs, legislation is much more limited. The Czech Republic is one country that does require pets to be restrained in the vehicle. In the United States, not all states have specific laws and regulations regarding restraint for dogs while traveling in the car. These regulations vary depending on the state and are generally difficult to enforce due to their vagueness (Hazel et al., 2019).

Conclusion

In summary, regardless of the legislation and where you live, dogs should be restrained in some manner to prevent injury to themselves and the human passengers traveling with them in the car. Safety restraint options vary, and there are pros and cons to each style of restraint. The Center for Pet Safety provides testing and resources on products that pass their safety standards. Overall, even though standards and regulations of car restraints are lacking, it is still better to use any form of restraint than using none. Finding an option that fits your budget, dog, car, and lifestyle will ensure your pet’s safety and allow them to live a long life full of fun adventures on the road.

Works Cited

2015 Crate Study Results.” Center for Pet Safety. Accessed June 26, 2021.

Anon. “Surveys Highlight the Dangers of Unrestrained Pets in Cars.Veterinary Record 179, no. 11 (2016): 271–71.

Blunck, Hallie, Cynthia Owsley, Paul A. MacLennan, and Gerald McGwin. "Driving with pets as a risk factor for motor vehicle collisions among older drivers." Accident Analysis & Prevention 58 (2013): 70-74.

Hazel, Susan J., Lori R. Kogan, V. Tamara Montrose, Michelle L. Hebart, and James A. Oxley. "Restraint of dogs in vehicles in the US, UK and Australia." Preventive veterinary medicine 170 (2019): 104714.

Huisingh, Carrie, Emily B. Levitan, Marguerite R. Irvin, Cynthia Owsley, and Gerald McGwin Jr. "Driving with pets and motor vehicle collision involvement among older drivers: A prospective population-based study." Accident Analysis & Prevention 88 (2016): 169-174.

Mariti, Chiara, Angelo Gazzano, Jane Lansdown Moore, Paolo Baragli, Laura Chelli, and Claudio Sighieri. "Perception of dogs’ stress by their owners." Journal of Veterinary Behavior 7, no. 4 (2012): 213-219.

Paws and Secure Your Puppy – Dog car harness test.” NRMA Insurance, June 26, 2020.

Seat-Belt - Data by Country.” World Health Organization. Global Health Observatory data repository, 2020.

Zeleny, M., and K. Grusova. "A car accident involving a restrained dog within the vehicle: a case report." Veterinarni Medicina 60, no. 7 (2015): 399-402.