Driving with Dogs: Everything you need to know
The UK is a nation of animal lovers – with a special place for man’s best friend. More than 25% of the UK adult population has a dog, making up an estimated 9.9 million dogs in the UK*.
Most people treat their dog like a member of the family, taking them with them wherever possible. In fact, 84% of pet owners said they’ve travelled with their pet in the car. Yet only 16% of those respondents said they had used any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog. More concerningly, 17% of these respondents said they had let their dog sit in their lap!
Driving with dog in car laws
It is actually illegal to drive with an unrestrained animal in your car in the UK. Rule 57 of the Highway Code states:
“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
Despite this almost two thirds of UK motorists are unaware that they need to restrain their pet, risking a fine of up to £5,000 for careless driving. It can also invalidate your insurance should you get into an accident - and the same study found that 1 in 10 drivers has had an accident with their pet in the car or knows somebody who has.
Does my dog need a car seatbelt?
Ignoring the financial risks of fines or invalidated insurance for travelling illegally with your dog – it’s also a huge safety issue. There’s three main reasons to restrain a dog while travelling: to stop distractions, manage the dog’s deceleration on impact and prevent the dog becoming a hazard to other passengers in the event of a crash.
The first reason is fairly straightforward. A dog that’s leaping around in the backseats or worse hanging out the passenger window is a big distraction. Distracted driving is a major cause of crashes and constantly checking on your dog while driving will increase your chances of having an accident as your attention is on your pet and not the road ahead.
In the event of a crash, managing your dog’s deceleration rate is vital to stopping severe injuries. There’s a reason seatbelts are stressed as such a vital safety feature for people and it’s no different for our four-legged friends. Seatbelts are designed to reduce the speed of your body as quickly as possible in line with how quickly the car is decelerating. They not only hold us in place to stop us being ejected from the vehicle, they also massively reduce the chances of internal trauma.
The final reason to restrain your dog – preventing it from becoming a hazard to others – is closely interlinked with the last reason. It’s estimated that in a car crash where you’re travelling at just 30 miles an hour, an unrestrained dog weighing just 36 kilograms would become a 1088 kilogram projectile. To contrast that, getting punched by a boxer only generates 254 kilograms of force – your body would be taking a hit more than four times as hard. Not only is it dangerous and likely to end in injuries for the dog – it’s incredibly dangerous for the other people in the car.
Best way to travel safely with your dog
There’s easy ways and a range of in-car restraint products to reduce the risks above. The best way to reduce the risk of danger to other passengers is to install a car dog guard – preferably a sturdy, manufacturer approved dog guard so you know it fits correctly and is unlikely to come lose in the event of a crash.
Ideally, not only will you have a dog guard in place, you’ll also have your dog restrained with a dog seatbelt and harness for their own safety. However, make sure you do a lot of research into which the best product is for your pet before purchasing.
There’s currently no testing requirements for any pet car safety products. A non-profit called The Centre for Pet Safety is currently trying to rectify this and has put various products through crash testing with alarming results. For example, out of 8 harnesses that they tested, only one of them passed. You can see for yourself how products performed, highlighting the importance of spending extra on high quality, reliable safety equipment.
Other safety tips for travelling with your dog include always taking a water bowl and some food on long journeys in case you end up stranded as well as never leaving your dog in the car alone in warm temperatures.