I was recently invited to be a guest on a radio discussion about the safety of dogs in cars. Sadly the programme was rearranged and I couldn’t make the recording, but it was a very interesting subject to be invited to look at.
So how safe is your dog when you travel in the car? What should you do to restrain them? Should you restrain them at all?
According to figures from the RAC and the PDSA, between 20% and 27% of dogs are completely unrestrained in the car when it’s in motion, with most of those being on the back seat. The RAC also show that 4% of pet owners – 2% dogs, 2% cats – have had an accident or near miss due to their pet being loose in the car.
The Highway Code states that drivers need to ensure that:
“dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so that they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you or themselves if you stop too quickly.”
Aside from the risks to yourself and your passengers, you should check your car insurance; many policies will be invalid if your pet is loose in the car when you have an accident. Understandably so: looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of crashing, so an unrestrained animal bouncing around and distracting you could lead to tragedy.
So how common are car accidents involving pets? Unfortunately I couldn’t find any figures for
the UK, but in Australia five thousand dogs per year are killed or injured falling from a moving vehicle. As a vet, I certainly see pets who are injured by being in a vehicle during a collision, but obviously see far more who are hit by moving cars while out and about on the road.
Dogs can be restrained in a car in several ways
- A seat belt harness
- A pet carrier
- A dog cage
- A dog guard to stop the dog getting to the front of the car
Cats and smaller pets are almost always carried in a pet carrier.
In 2013 the Centre for Pet Safety in the USA carried out the first pet crash test trials using the same techniques used for people. They tested collisions at 30mph with various types of restraints and videoed the results so they could play them back in slow motion. These showed that many restraints were very poor – one manufacturer even recalled all their harnesses and started the design again from scratch. You can find details of the study at http://www.centerforpetsafety.org/
The best harnesses are large and padded. They should fit the dog snugly and shouldn’t slide up the head or neck or turn round on the chest. It’s really important that they have more than one attachment point to the seat belt or seat belt clip; a single clip can’t reliably restrain a dog of spaniel size or bigger. If the harness isn’t fastened in several places there’s a risk of the dog being thrown around, causing spinal injuries. Carabiner clips aren’t good enough either – these will often pull apart if put under enough stress.
What about animals in carriers? How are you best to transport them? The safest place for a carrier is on the floor behind the front seats, or in the boot positioned across the car. If carriers are secured with a normal seat belt, the door can open during a collision and the carrier often deforms and pops apart.
If you use a dog guard it should be professionally fitted with stable attachment points so that it can’t be pushed forward into the front of the car.
In summary, you should never travel with your animal loose in the car. If they wear a harness, check out the results at the Centre for Pet Safety to ensure that your harness is one of the safest ones available. If you use a box or crate make sure it’s placed behind a seat or in the boot.
Some of the more recent findings were news to me – I don’t know about you, but this will change the way that I transport my pets.
You can find the references for this blog at :
You can see more information about your cat travelling in the car at http://ashvets.co.uk/pet-health-videos/