Pet Safety While Driving–The Dos and Don’ts

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If you consider your pet to be a part of the family and you want to take it on the road, you're not alone. According to a survey by AAA, more than half of dog owners have driven with their dog in tow. However, pet safety while driving is often overlooked. While a car trip can certainly promote bonding with your dog, cat, hamster or other critter, it can also create a distraction.

dog in the car safety harness

Nearly a quarter of the AAA survey respondents said they had used their hands to hold their pet in place while applying the brakes, and 19 percent said they'd used their hands to keep their pet from climbing in the front seat--while the car was in motion. If you don't want to jeopardize your pet's life--or your own or that of someone else--follow these tips to drive safely with your winged or four-legged companions by your side.

4 Tips for Pet Safety While Driving

Keep Your Pet Off Your Lap

There's nothing wrong with cuddling with your pet, but the car is not the place to do it, especially when you're driving. More than 20 percent of drivers surveyed had allowed their dogs to sit in their laps while they were driving. A pet in your lap can block your vision or keep you from reacting quickly if you suddenly need to brake. Sitting in your lap--or anywhere in the front seat--could be dangerous for your pet too. The back seat is where your pet will be the safest since it's the part of the car where you're least prone to injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Use a Carrier or Restraint

No matter how well-behaved your pet may be, never let it roam free in your car. If you get into a crash, your pet can be thrown from the car, or into you, with tremendous force.

According to AAA, if an unrestrained 10-pound dog that's thrown in a crash at a mere 30 miles per hour lands on you, it could feel like 300 pounds of pressure crashing into you.

Depending on where you live, failure to restrain your pets can also cost you. The state of New Jersey, for example, has passed a law ticketing drivers whose pets are in the car unrestrained, with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000. Dogs should be in a restraining harness that buckles into the seat belt; cats should be in a carrier that's held in place by a seat belt. Even if you have smaller animals, you should keep them contained. For example, pet supply retailer Petco recommends that hamsters are transported in an escape-proof plastic carrier and birds are kept in a cage that they won't be able to chew through.

Keep All Pets Inside of the Car

Chances are you've seen a car driving down the road with a dog's head hanging out the window. In such a case that dog is in jeopardy of getting hurt by rocks, twigs, and other flying objects. To limit Rover's outdoor access, AAA recommends using the air conditioner rather than rolling down the windows on hot days.

Take Care of Your Pet's Needs

If you're going on a long road trip, prepare to stop every couple of hours to give your pets a break and, if needed, a chance to relieve themselves. If you have a cat, bring your litter box along. If you have a dog, make sure you scoop your dog's poop. Also make sure your pet has water if you'll be traveling for an extended period of time. Hot temperatures cause heat stroke and cold temperatures can lead to hypothermia. An unattended pet in a car could also be at risk of being targeted by pet thieves. When you leave the car with your pet, make sure he has a collar or a leash, or keep him in the carrier.

You wouldn't hit the road without making sure your kids were buckled in and safe. Extend the same courtesy to your pets.

What are doing to keep your pets safe while you are on the road?

Laura Adams is managing editor of, a leading online provider of car insurance news.


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