Male and female with two young children packing up red car.

Car safety for dogs

What should you do to keep your dog safe and happy on a car journey and what does the law say about travelling with dogs?

Travelling with dogs

Around 33% of us own a dog, making them the UK's most popular pet. If you're a proud owner of a pooch, you probably take them out in the car with you at times. But are you travelling safely with them? Here's our guide on how to keep everybody safe…

What the law says

They Highway Code actually have a rule about this – they say:

"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."

You may not realise, but having an unrestrained dog in your car can be extremely dangerous. They could be thrown forward in an accident or suddenly lurch at you while you're driving. Or they could knock the gear stick or handbrake unintentionally.

And, if you did have an accident, they could get scared or distressed, which can be a real issue for emergency workers.

It's not illegal to break the Highway Code but driving with an unrestrained dog can be seen as careless driving. If the police catch you, you could be fined £1,000 and be given up to six points on your licence. If you're a new driver, this usually means you'll have to retake your test.

If it's a serious offence, you could be taken to court, given nine points on your licence and a fine of up to £5,000. You might even be disqualified from driving altogether.

How to restrain a dog in a car

Restraining a dog basically means they can't move about freely. There are lots of things to think about before doing this, including:

  • Other passengers
  • The size and style of your car
  • Your dog’s size, age, behaviour and preferences
  • Your type of journey
  • If they’re likely to be wet or muddy
  • Whether they get anxious if they can't see you.

Let's look at the different types of restraint for dogs in cars. Just be aware that your insurer specify you use a particular restraint, so be sure to check your policy.

Crates or carriers

This is the safest option for smaller dogs. A crate or carrier can fit in the boot, on the back passenger seats, in a front passenger footwell, or on the front seat (once the airbag has been deactivated).

Even if you have a large dog, if your pet is crate-trained and the crate will fit into your boot, this is a good option for keeping them safe.

Car safety harnesses

This is basically a seatbelt for a dog. They clip into existing belt fastenings and restrain the dog across the body, making sure they don't fly forward in an accident.

There should be enough slack in the belt for the dog to be comfortable – so make sure the harness is adjusted correctly before setting off. Harnesses have the benefit that other passengers can stroke the dog during the journey, helping to keep them calm and relaxed.

Boot guards

A guard fitted between the boot and rear passenger seats counts as a suitable restraint. This is because your dog can't be thrown forward in an accident or roam around the vehicle while it's moving.

However, this is a less safe option for the dog as they won't be held back upon impact, so you could combine a boot guard with a harness or crate for additional safety. For larger boots, a boot divider can be used to split the space, which improves the safety aspect.

Top tips for travelling with dogs

Consider these top tips to make your trip safe and stress-free.

    • Turn off the airbags

    Airbags are designed to protect humans, not dogs. They should be turned off to prevent injury if your dog is travelling in the front passenger seat.

    • Don't open windows wide

    Letting your dog stick their head out of the window increases the risk of them being harmed by street signs and other vehicles. Dirt or grit could also get into their eyes, noses and mouth.

    • Bring plenty of water

    Drinking will help your dog to stay cool, especially on longer journeys.

    • Watch the temperature

    Use your car's windows, air conditioning and heating to provide a suitable temperature for your dog and never leave your pet alone in the car on a hot day.

    • Plan lots of breaks

    Stopping to allow your dog to relieve themselves, stretch their legs, have a drink and reconnect with you will help to prevent stress.

    • Bring a favourite toy or blanket

    A well-loved toy or comforter will reassure your dog if you can't touch them during the trip.

    • Don't feed your dog right before traveling

    Leaving a gap between feeding and putting them in the car will help reduce the risk of them being sick on the journey.

    • Protect your interior

    Dogs can be mucky so a dog hammock or boot protector will keep your seats free from muddy paws, dribble and pet hair.

Car safety for dogs is just one of the motoring guides we’ve created to help you and your loved ones stay safe on the road.

All information is correct at the time of publication. Hastings Direct cannot be held responsible for any misinformation displayed.

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