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Growing up in a rural area, I lost count of the number of times I saw dogs (and kids!) in the backs of pickup trucks. We all knew it wasn’t exactly safe, but a lot of us didn’t see the harm.
Well, a lot of time has passed since then — a lot of laws, too. And now, more people than ever understand that dogs need to be vehicle-safe as well.
But what does that actually mean?
Car Safety Laws
If you think about it, car travel poses a lot of dangers to your dog. Different states and jurisdictions have come up with laws to address some of these, but not all of them. What do the laws look like where you are?
Leaving dogs in cars
We’ve all read sad stories about dogs who perished or nearly perished from being left in hot cars. The internet has made sure that these stories have circulated far and wide. One good thing that has come out of these tragedies, though, is a profusion of laws against leaving animals in parked vehicles. 28 states currently have such laws. In some, bystanders have the right to break windows to rescue an animal. In others, witnesses must call the police or a humane officer to do the job. Some states provide prison sentences for owners who leave their dogs in parked cars.
Of course you know never to do this, whether it’s against the law in your state or not.
Children must be restrained in cars, but there are currently no similar laws mandating dog restraints (although it is illegal in several states to travel with pets in your lap).
However, just like children, unrestrained dogs can be injured or cause injury to other passengers. There are a variety of pet restraints on the market. If your dog is a frequent passenger, you might consider buying a size-appropriate harness, or keeping him or her in a carrier during travel.
The image of a dog with its head out the window, catching passing smells is classic. But it’s unsafe. Dogs can squeeze themselves through smaller spaces than you might imagine. They can also be injured by flying debris. Although there are no laws about dogs and car windows, perhaps there should be.
In addition to injuries, a pet in your lap or wandering around the car can cause a distraction, and this can run you afoul of the law. Distracted driving accidents injure 400,000 people per year — and result in 3,300 deaths. Most states now have distracted driving laws, and many of these would include unrestrained pets as a distraction. You can learn more about the laws in your area at DMV.org.
Car Safety Devices
So how can you make sure you and your Jack are traveling as safely as you can? Here’s some essential gear. You don’t have to use all of these things together, nor should you try. Rather, pick out one or two that would work best for you and your pet.
A safety harness looks like a walking harness. That is, it goes around the chest, over the back, and fastens underneath the belly. Car safety harnesses are often padded, so in case of a sudden movement, your dog won’t sustain bruises.
A safety tether is like a short leash. One end clips to the harness, and the other clips to the child seat latching system that is standard in most cars, or works with the seat belt system.
Back seat barrier
A back seat barrier stretches between the two front seats, creating a solid barrier between the front and back. It’s usually made from nylon ripstop. In the event of an accident, this can keep an unrestrained pet from flying into the front seat or through the windshield.
Canine “zip line”
One end of a canine “zip line” attaches to your dog’s safety harness. On the other end is a ring, through which passes a ceiling-mounted line. This allows your dog the freedom to walk around the back seat, but not to come up front and cause a distraction.
Car seat carrier
Like a baby seat/carrier combination, a dog car seat carrier keeps your pet secure and enclosed. Some use the seat belt to hold it in place, and others even use the latch system.
Yes, there are even booster seats for dogs! They secure with a latch or seat belt, and have a built-in tether that attaches to your dog’s harness.
Car Safety Tips
How can you keep your pup safe when you travel? Here are some simple tips.
- First, never, ever leave a pet unattended in your car.
- Also, never let them ride unsecured in the open back of a vehicle.
- Keep the windows closed or cracked while driving. Sniffing is fine, whole head out the window is not.
- Inside the car, use a restraint or combination of restraints to keep your dog from causing a distraction.
- Also consider a seat belt or carrier, to keep them safe.
Traveling with your pup can be fun for both of you. But it can also be dangerous. Our dogs are our family. Don’t put a family member at risk!
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