Caring for your pets at home is one thing; taking care of them inside a moving vehicle is another. Traveling with your pets can be fun but it can also be stressful. Keep in mind that driving with unrestrained pets is dangerous for them, for you, and for anyone who happens to be near you including other drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Distracted Driving

Driving while distracted is one of the leading causes of injury and death on the roads and highways in the United States. In a single year, nearly 3,000 people died and more than 400,000 people were injured in vehicle crashes due to drivers failing to keep their attention focused on the road.

It doesn’t take long for a distraction to become serious. A driver in Sunset, Utah was caught on camera driving headfirst into a police cruiser when her pet distracted her attention.

Taking your eyes off the road for as little as two seconds can double your chances of getting into an accident. And those odds increase when you repeatedly deal with an unrestrained pet in your vehicle.

According to Melanie Monteiro, author of the book “The Safe Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch Indoors and Out,” a 10-pound unrestrained dog can generate 500 pounds of projectile force in a 50 mph crash.

Of course, that shouldn’t mean Fido’s car riding days are over. It just means you must take some precautions to keep everyone in the car safe—whether they have fur or not. Here are some ways to help keep your favorite animals safe when traveling.

Pet Carriers/Crates

Pet carriers are great for keeping your pet contained. The enclosed space can actually comfort anxious animals who tend to pace back and forth when they feel nervous. A soft blanket, pillow, or bed inside can help them snuggle up and settle down for the journey.

Keep in mind that if you use a carrier, avoid buckling it into place with a seat belt. The experts at the Center for Pet Safety want people to know that unless the carrier passes a structural integrity test, it may get crushed during an accident. They recommend placing small carriers on the floor of the vehicle behind the driver or front passenger seat.

For larger animals, a crate (also called kennel) is a safer option. Many crates are designed to withstand the impact from a minor accident.  If your vehicle has a designated cargo area–like most SUVs today offer—you should use anchor straps to secure the crate in place.

Pet Harnesses

While carriers are designed to contain your pet, harnesses are typically used to restrain animals. You don’t want Fido skipping from seat to seat, climbing on and off your lap and obstructing your views. A harness is designed to use your vehicle’s existing seat belt to secure your furry friend in an upright or sitting position.

Some harnesses are more like zip lines that simply clip onto a buckled seat belt and allow the pet quite a bit of room to roam. While almost any type of restraint that keeps your animal from interfering with your driving is better than nothing, these harness designs should be your last option. They just don’t offer much protection for Fido during an accident.

Check out these tips for choosing the right harness before you make any buying decisions.

Can Dogs Ride in the Back of a Pickup Truck?

The answer is simple. No. Never let your pet ride in the back of a pickup truck. The risks are too great.

The American Humane Society offers a few common dangers pets may experience when riding in a truck:

  • Open truck beds do not offer protection from extreme weather. Intense sunshine can heat the metal floor of the bed and burn your pet’s paws. Even short journeys in this situation can cause heat stroke.
  • Your pet may see something, become excited, and leap from the truck while it is moving.
  • Maintaining balance, even during mild turns, can be a challenge for pets in the back of a truck. Pets may get injured by slamming into the sides of the truck bed, or they may even bounce out of the truck altogether.
  • Never tie your pet’s leash to the truck while they ride in the pickup bed. They could lose their balance and get strangled.
  • Any collision has the potential to make your pet a projectile and cause extreme injuries or death.

If you must put your pet in the back of your pickup, use a crate to provide some protection for your animal. Be sure to secure it safely to keep it from shifting during the ride.

State Laws Requiring Pet Restraints

Approximately 20% of drivers polled for a survey claim to secure their pets during car rides. That means 80% of pets out for joyrides are left unrestrained.

With the high number of distracted driving accidents occurring throughout the nation, more states are beginning to pass laws requiring drivers to secure their pets in the car.

What does your state allow? Check local pet restraint laws here.

Stay Safe with a Defensive Driving Course

Whether you want to learn techniques to keep you and your pet safe on the roads, or you need a refresher on traffic laws and regulations to help improve your driving, we can help. A DriveSafe Online Defensive Driving Course can help you save time, money, and lives.

Plus, you may be eligible to save up to 10% off your auto insurance premium for three consecutive years. That could put a few hundred dollars back into your pocket—and maybe buy Fido some extra chew toys.

Learn more about the benefits of our defensive driving courses here.