For most of us, our dogs are an extension to our family. They aren’t just an animal we share the house with, but a loyal friend, companion and provider of fun and love.  We treat them to their favourite food, take them on regular walks and generally spoil them rotten.

However, when it comes to transporting our furry friends, some of us aren’t treating our dogs with the love they deserve.  Due to safety concerns, laws have been established regarding having dogs in cars and most of us aren’t aware of what these laws state and of the potential safety risks, fines and problems that can occur by not adhering to them. We wouldn’t dream of not making sure our children were safe when travelling, but with our pets we tend to not be as careful. I’m sure we have all seen a car or truck with a lovely dog hanging its head out of the window with its tongue flapping in the wind. Just the image of that conjures up an “awwww” in us, but just how safe is this; for the dog itself and for the driver and other passengers in the vehicle?

This article aims to lay out the current UK and US law regarding having dogs in cars and what you can do to make sure your trips are both legal and safe.

UK Law

There are two areas where the law could be applied regarding transporting a dog in your car.

  1. Undue Care and Attention – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.3
  2. The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006
Driving Without Due Care and Attention (Careless Driving)

This law can be applied in many ways but allowing the driver to become distracted can be deemed as driving carelessly. Having a pet loose in the car’s cabin is without doubt a possible distraction and as such, a potential offence which could result in prosecution.

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.”

The Highway code is not law and does not therefore carry a direct penalty, but if the police were to see an unrestrained dog loose in the vehicle they could easily recognise this as hazard and the vehicle could be pulled over for careless driving.

In an article on the UK’s government website (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-penalties-for-careless-driving-come-into-force) it states:

“The fixed penalty for careless driving is now £100 with 3 points on the driver’s licence. The most serious examples will continue to go through court, where offenders may face higher penalties.

The police will also be able to offer educational training as an alternative to endorsement. Drivers will still be able to appeal any decision in court.”

Court visits due to careless driving can result in up to 9 penalty points and a whopping £5000 fine!

The Welfare of Animals

Whenever animals are transported, including journeys with pets such as dogs, the law states that: ‘No person shall transport any animal in a way which causes or is likely to cause injury or unnecessary suffering to that animal.’

This is a far reaching piece of legislation aimed primarily at stopping neglect and cruelty to animals with possible fines up to £20,000 and up to a year in prison. While this is in extreme cases, pet owners do have a ‘duty of care’ to their pets and so if their means of transportation was deemed “likely to cause injury or unnecessary suffering to that animal’ this law could easily be applied with a potential prosecution.

US Law

Unlike the UK, there is no federal law regarding restraining dogs in a moving vehicle. However, as is often the case, there are several state laws that stipulate certain requirements.  For instance:

  • In Hawaii, dogs are not allowed to be transported on the drivers’ lap.
  • In California and Massachusetts, dogs in open pick-up trucks must be secured.
  • Police in New Jersey can cite a driver if they find the animal is being “improperly transported”

Specific legislation regarding the transportation of dogs exists for Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia.

The reader is encouraged to look up the specific legislation for their state so as to ensure compliance. This articled dated 2013 is a summary of the various state laws but may now be outdated. – https://www.petage.com/state-laws-regarding-pet-travel/

Isn’t this all a bit over the top?

When I set out to write this article I thought just that. I’ve driven many times with my dog in the foot well of the passenger seat without giving it a second thought. On reflection though there have been times when my big baby (a Bullmastiff, so not small) has started whimpering or getting excited about something while we were on the move. There is no way I could honestly say this wasn’t a distraction because of course it was.

UK law aside and the possibility of a careless driving conviction, there is also the concern of invalidated insurance. If I were to have had an accident at those times when my Meg was making a fuss you can be certain that the Insurance company would have insisted it was because I was distracted and would therefore have found a way to wriggle out of paying the claim.  In the same way that using a mobile phone or satnav while driving is considered a danger so too would be petting or calming a dog.

In the process of researching this article I unearthed some shocking videos of dog related incidents. This first short clip from YouTube shows a poor dog coming out of the window of a car travelling at speed as it is entering onto the slip road of a motorway (freeway). It’s unclear whether the dog was ok.

This second clip shows a small dog actually fall from the front window of the car onto the tarmac and the driver is several hundred yards up the road before she stops. Thankfully the dog is ok, but it could have been so much worse and must have been a real ordeal for the poor little fellow.

These clips highlight just how easy and quickly having an unrestrained dog in the car can turn into an emergency situation.

Common Sense Guidelines

  • Restrain / separate your dog properly with a harness, crate, or guard.
  • If in a crate or cage ensure the container cannot move when accelerating, braking and going around corners, so secure it with straps.
  • If travelling in the luggage compartment of a hatchback / estate car use a secure dog-guard to separate the dog from the cabin space.
  • If travelling in the luggage compartment ensure the floor is non slip.
  • If loose in the vehicle, ensure that you use a screen to stop the dog being able to enter the drivers’ space and cause a distraction.
  • If loose in the vehicle, ensure the dog cannot escape through an open window. If the windows need to be open, ensure a suitable window vent guard is used.
  • Ensure the dog is not exposed to strong sunlight or draughts.
  • Ensure sufficient ventilation for the dog at all times – particularly when not moving.

Product Solutions

There is a huge range of products aimed at transporting your dog safely in-car.  These cater for all shapes and sizes of dog and some are extremely inexpensive. We aren’t looking at any specific products in this article but below we have links to various categories of products that you may find helpful.

Dog Guards for the luggage compartment

These can be freestanding or attach to the rear headrests and form a barrier between the main interior of the car and the boot / trunk. These are either adjustable universal types or specific for certain makes and model of car.

Dog Screens for inside the car cabin

These fit onto the back of the front seats ensuring your dog cannot climb into the front and cause a driver distraction.

Dog crates and Cages

These keep your dog in place and secure and allow them to have their bed and toys with them. They fold flat when not in use.

Dog Carriers

These are for smaller dogs and fit onto a standard seat in the car. They are billed as a great and safe way to take your pet with you on the road.

Dog Harnesses / Seat Belts

These restraining straps allow you to tether your dog to an anchor point within the car.

Window Vent Guards

These allow a safe way to leave a window open in a vehicle without fear of your dog being able to escape.

Conclusion

If, like me, you had a laid back approach to law and safety in the car regarding man’s best friend then I encourage you to think again. For the sake of the welfare of your family dog and the other passengers in your car, the most loving thing you can do is to ensure that every occupant of the vehicle, including your dog, is safe. There are lots of inexpensive ways to stay safe and inside the law, so make the changes you need today and get safe.

This article is specifically about the law. Please read our other article which goes into much more detail about the practicalities of travelling with your dog in the car – x Top Ways to travel safely with your dog in the car.