Pet Travel. Made Easy.

Buckle Up That Dog! Do Your Part to Prevent Car Wrecks

As pet owners we adore our dogs, and many of us consider them beloved members of our family. We take them on vacations with us, to the park, to the vet, and even on burger runs! They smile and do the wiggly butt dance when we get the leash and tell them we’re going for a ride. There’s no denying it, dogs love going for rides – and we enjoy taking them!

However, letting your dog have free rein inside your vehicle can be dangerous to you, your pet, and everyone else on the road. As a responsible owner, it’s best to restrain them in the car. Here are a few reasons why:

Daisy - Dog in Car

Holly’s dog, Daisy, is buckled up and ready to ride!

  • Your dog becomes a projectile in a car accident: The sad truth is that your 60-pound best friend basically becomes a 2,100 pound wrecking ball if you have a collision at 35 miles per hour, and their momentum can injure anyone around. What’s worse is that the higher the speed or the heavier your dog, the worse the impact would be for them, for you, or for your passengers.
  • A loose pet is dangerously distracting: Fido, Kitty or any other critter running loose in your vehicle is as dangerous as texting while driving. And their adorable (but unrestrained) antics could subject you to the law for distracted driving – which can be pretty harsh in some states. A dog in your lap can cause interference with your steering or block your vision. And, if she crawls under the pedals, she could hinder your ability to apply the gas or hit the brakes.
  • Pets may pose a threat to first responders: In a car wreck, injured or frightened pets may lash out and bite people that approach the car – including paramedics. Their instincts may drive them to protect themselves and you, hindering emergency personnel from helping anyone inside the vehicle – especially if they’re loose and snapping at anyone that comes close. If your dog bites emergency personnel, the protocol is for first responders to tend to their colleagues’ injury before anyone else, which could leave you in the lurch for some time if you’re also injured.
  • Your dog is a legal (and financial) responsibility: Dogs act unpredictably when they’re frightened or injured, and it’s possible that they could escape the car and bite someone attempting to rescue them. Even in an accident, you could be held responsible under the strict liability statutes imposed by many states that say owners are responsible for injuries caused by their dog, whether or not the owner knew or had reason to know the dog was dangerous.
  • They can cause secondary injuries: If your dog is unrestrained, they can escape after a car wreck and cause a secondary accident when a car tries to swerve to keep from striking them – making a horrible situation worse. And, the damages from this type of accident may not be covered by your insurance carrier.

States with Pet Restraint Laws

Dog in CarSeveral states have enacted laws that require pets to be restrained when riding in vehicles. The goal of these laws aren’t to save pet’s lives, but it will have a happy result – the pet owners, the pets, and everyone else on the road will be safer. Lawmakers put them in place because they consider driving with a pet on your lap or with them unrestrained in the car to be similar to texting and driving or driving while intoxicated. Here’s a few of the laws currently in place regarding pet restraints, and one that is getting introduced:

New Jersey – New Jersey police officers can stop drivers anytime they believe that an animal is being improperly transported. The law forbids dogs from hanging out of windows (and also riding in the beds of pickup trucks). Motorists are required to properly restrain their pets, which in the state of New Jersey means that they need to be buckled up with restraints specifically designed for pets, or safely stowed in a pet crate. The fines are steep, too, with a price tag of $250 to $1,000 – and drivers could potentially face charges under animal cruelty laws.

Arizona, Connecticut and Maine – distracted driving statutes can be used to charge drivers who are observed driving with pets in their laps.

Hawaii – Laws strictly forbids individuals from holding a pet in their lap while driving.

Rhode Island – State Representative (D) Peter Palumbo introduced legislation in 2013 that he hopes will make driving with a pet in your lap a distracted driving violation in Rhode Island.

Proper Restraints for Your Pet

Responsible owners make sure that they properly restrain their dog, and pet restraining devices for your automobile are inexpensive, and can be purchased at most pet stores.

Use a Dog Seat Belt or Harness

The rest of the family wears a seat belt, and this family member needs one, too! A good fitting seat belt can restrain your pup and keep him from hitting his head or body on the hard interior of the car, or from flying out of the car if there is a collision or you have to slam on your brakes. Also, it may be fun to watch your dog stick its head out the window–not so fun when his eyes or face are hit by debris or insects. The seat belt will keep them secure and you can crack the window, so they can still see the sights and smell all that amazing “stuff.”

A dog seat belt is made of adjustable straps that fit all varieties of dogs. Owners can purchase different types of seat belt harnesses that wrap around a dog’s body and attach to the seat belt in your car. The safest place for a seat belted dog is in the middle back seat, so be sure to put her there. Animals in the front seat can be crushed by the airbag if it deploys in a collision.

Crate Your Pets

Crates and carriers work really well for both cats and small dogs. There are travel versions with covers and flaps that allow you to limit how much your pet can see if traveling makes them nervous or if they get motion sickness, but still provide plenty of space and ventilation. A carrier can be a cozy place for your pet to relax or take a nap on those short runs to get yogurt or longer trips you plan for the entire family. Be sure to fasten the seat belt around the crate or carrier, or your pet won’t be protected in an accident.


As a responsible pet owner, you want to make sure that you restrain your animal whenever you drive – even for short trips. Unrestrained dogs can cause injuries to you and others, and can even cause secondary car accidents if your dog escapes from the car. Dogs and cats roaming loose in your car or sitting in your lap can cause you to become distracted, which can lead to a ticket or legal issues in some states such as New Jersey. You don’t want to open yourself up to the hassles of any legal liabilities or cause anyone to get hurt when you are driving with your pet, so be sure you buckle up that dog!

About the Author: Holly Chavez has two dogs who tend to get rowdy if they aren’t strapped in. Her dogs enjoy vacations and short trips, except for the one to the veterinarian. They just know that vet is up to something!

Big thanks to Holly for sharing her insights with us! Traveling with our pets is fun, but it’s also a responsibility! We appreciate Holly for gathering this valuable information on restraining pets in vehicles and applaud her passion to keep pets safe.

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  • Agreed! And waggin’ trails to you and your cats, HelenaJoy Sleger Kaiser. =)

  • Yes,But I am sure it happens all the time. I would never think of letting my cats roam free in a vehicle. They are in a carrier which is buckled in with the seat belt in the back seat. They are a part of our family and we want to keep them safe as well – have a wonderful day!

  • Oh my goodness – I’m so sorry, Helena! What a completely awful situation. Thankfully no one was hurt. And I completely agree with you – buckling up our pets should be required in EVERY state – for the safety of all the humans on the roads, and the pets.

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