Pets on Board: The Dangers of Driving with Pets and How to Keep Them Safe

Review this checklist before planning your next road trip with your pets to help keep passengers of all species safe.
Family with dog in the car. The Dangers of Driving with Pets and How to Keep Them Safe.

As a pet parent, you have certain responsibilities to stay on top of, and that includes their safety while traveling. But traveling with dogs can also impact your safety while driving, so it's necessary to consider the safety of all passengers in the vehicle.

An independent insurance agent in your area can help you get set up with the proper protection from a coverage standpoint, including all the car insurance you may need. But for starters, here are some handy tips to keep your canine and human family members safe and secure everywhere they go.

Four Potential Dangers of Driving with Pets

Driving with your pets can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be dangerous. Here are some things to keep in mind before you buckle your pet children up for the next trip.

1. Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a huge problem in the US, and the culprit isn't always a cell phone. Sometimes it's a beloved family pet. The CDC reports that more than 3,100 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2019, and 424,000 people were injured. Perhaps more disturbingly, about 20% of those who were killed by distracted drivers weren't in cars at all, they were either riding a bike, walking near or on the road, or doing something else outside of a vehicle.

Pets can distract drivers in a number of ways, from barking, to getting sick, to jumping on them and trying to get their attention. Fortunately, car insurance will still cover accidents even if you're distracted by your dog. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take all the precautions you can to minimize the risk of distractions when traveling with your pets. 

2. Airbags Can Kill

Sitting with a pet in your lap while driving can be fatal. If an accident occurs that causes your airbag to deploy, the force of the bag's inflation could easily kill your pet due to its position. The safest way to strap your pet in is to give them their own seat in the back of the vehicle, with a special restraint.

3. Crash Runaways

After a collision, paramedics may be called to the scene. These strangers can scare dogs, leading to them running away while you're unable to tend to them. The worst-case scenario would be a dog running off into oncoming traffic while you're trapped within the vehicle.

4. Legal Issues

If you do decide to travel with a pet in your lap, you could face legal consequences. While laws vary by state, many outlaw pet owners from driving with a dog sitting in their lap in the front seat, and violation of this law can lead to fines. Many states have also banned dogs from being allowed to travel in truck beds or stick their head out of the window of a moving vehicle.  


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Six Tips to Drive Safely with Your Pets

Fortunately, there are a few ways to make trips with your pets safer for everyone, from your dog to pedestrians on the sidewalk. Follow the tips below for safer travels with your fur children.

1. Follow Pet Passenger Protocol

To maximize your dog's comfort and safety on road trips, there are a few pointers you can follow, including:

  • Use restraints: Get a special dog seatbelt harness that fits your specific pet. Always look for crash-test-approved equipment.
  • Keep them in the back: Having pets of any kind ride in the backseat can reduce distractions for the driver and keep the animals safe from airbags in case of a collision.
  • Collar-up first: Always put your pets' collars on before hitting the road, just in case you get separated.
  • Feed early: Before taking a drive with your pets, feed them three to four hours beforehand to decrease the likelihood of them getting sick and needing your attention.

Keeping pets safe and happy in your vehicle doesn't have to be a challenge when you keep these tips in mind.

2. Study Your State's Laws

Read up on each state's laws regarding how your pets must be secure in your vehicle. If you'll be taking a longer trip that involves crossing state lines, you'll need to be familiar with how these laws change from area to area. Take note of any states that you'll be passing through or visiting before you buckle up.

3. Prepare the Crates

If your pets will be traveling in a crate, make sure to get one large enough for them to be able to stand up, turn around, sit, lie down, etc. All pet crates must be well-ventilated and secured to the seat so they will remain in place during stops. 

4. Come Armed with Supplies

Always pack plenty of water, food, bowls, leashes, waste bags, grooming supplies, medication, and first aid, to properly care for your pets on the road. Be sure to grab any required travel documents too, including proof of rabies vaccinations. For dogs, be sure to make frequent stops to allow them to use the bathroom and stretch their legs.

5. Watch the Weather

As much as possible, try to plan road trips with animals when the weather will be decent. Driving in heavy snow can be stressful and dangerous enough without factoring your pets' safety into the equation on top of it all.

Further, never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. Even if it's only 70 degrees outside, within a half hour, the temperature inside the car can climb to 104. After one hour, your car's indoor temperature can soar to 113, which can be fatal.

6. Properly Secure Your Pets

Not all crates and restraints are created equal. You'll need to find the method of securing your pet in your vehicle that works best for its specific size. You can start by reviewing the guidelines below.

  1. Pet carriers and crates: Pet carriers are great for cats or small dogs under 15 pounds. They also help give nervous animals a safe, den-like environment. 
  2. Pet harnesses: Pets not in a carrier, typically those weighing more than 15 pounds, should wear harnesses. Travel harnesses are designed to fit around the dog's chest and neck, which helps spread the force of an impact.
  3. Booster seats: Dog booster seats are designed for smaller animals to help keep them safe and still allow them to see out of the window. Booster seats combined with harnesses can help keep smaller dogs inside the vehicle if you're allowed to roll the windows down while traveling with them in your state.
  4. Barriers: For larger dogs, a harness attached to the back seat is ideal. If the dog is too big, or will not settle in a harness, the next option is to confine him to the back seat or trunk using a barrier, to keep the animal from jumping on you while you drive, or being thrown from the back seat to the front in a collision.

Pets must be secured while in your vehicle to ensure a safe ride for all passengers. Keep this checklist of possible hazards and safety tips for traveling with pets in mind before you get behind the wheel with your dog in the backseat again. Also take some time to contact an independent insurance agent to review your car insurance coverage just in case a collision does happen.

Why Choose an Independent Insurance Agent?

Independent insurance agents simplify the process by shopping and comparing insurance quotes for you. Not only that, but they’ll cut through the jargon and clarify the fine print so you'll know exactly what you’re getting.

Independent insurance agents also have access to multiple insurance companies, ultimately finding you the best car insurance coverage, accessibility, and competitive pricing while working for you.

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