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Dog Car Safety - Your Options, Practical Tips & The Law

Dog Car Safety - Your Options, Practical Tips & The Law

In a car crash at just 35 miles per hour, a 60-pound dog becomes a 2,700-pound projectile that is strong enough to kill the dog and the occupants inside the car. Even the smallest dog can generate up to 500 pounds of projectile force. Thirty-five miles per hour is within the speed limit on residential streets - now imagine the damage if the car was speeding down a multi-lane highway. Fascinatingly scary, isn’t it?

But while you’re thinking “OMG!” did you know a 2018 study conducted by Volvo and the Harris Poll showed that 48 percent of owners do not have any dog car safety gear. We did a quick survey around the BlackboxMyCar office and unfortunately, more than half of us here don’t. It’s not uncommon to see dogs on the driver’s lap, in the front passenger seat, running from side to side in the car, or poking their head out the window.

So, what can we do to ensure our arms are not the only thing stopping pooch from catapulting out of the car?

Why secure my dog in the car?

Here are a few things to consider when taking your pup out for a ride:

! Ejected from car - A loose dog can be ejected from the car during an accident, sudden stops or even sharp turns. I have seen a dog being thrown through a window as the driver made a quick sharp turn off the Sea-to-Sky Highway in Squamish BC.

! Distracted driving - Everyone loves puppy kisses but not when you’re trying to focus on the road. Hands off the wheel and eyes off the road can occur when you are trying to hold your dog back or push him off your lap.

! Flying objects - You wouldn’t let your child hang his arms or head outside the windows of a moving vehicle, so the same should go for your pet. Your dog may enjoy his face blowing in the breeze, but make sure he is secured inside of the vehicle. You certainly don’t want to risk your pet getting hit by passing cars or objects flying in through the window.

! Darting Out - Unfortunately, these things don’t just happen in movies. Each year, hundreds of pets are lost or injured when they dart out of cars uncontrolled. A scared dog will run and become lost, often running through traffic and endangering other drivers.

How can I keep my dog safe in the car?

Just like your children, the safest place for your pets is in the back seat. Car manufacturers typically design airbags to protect an adult who is at least 5 feet tall and roughly 150 pounds - an airbag deploys in 1/20th of a second (or 200 miles per hour). It can significantly injure anyone under the height and/or weight recommendations.

There are ways to keep your dog safe in the car. Australia’s Budget Direct Car Insurance has a great infographic that shows the range of car safety options and important precautions you need to consider when using them.

1. Seat belt

These are great for well-behaved dogs of all sizes. The harness secures the dog in one position using a strap that fits into the seatbelt. To set this up, you slide the seatbelt through the dog’s harness loop. One thing to keep in mind, make sure your dog doesn’t chew through the seatbelt while you are driving. Look for wide straps and/or padded chest pieces for more comfort.

2. Zipline harness

The zipline harness is good for any size dog and is designed for more active ones, such as young dogs that struggle to settle. The zipline restrains the dog while allowing them to move freely across the backseat. These are best used in conjunction with a dog harness.

3. Crate

Crating can be done with any size dog. Just make sure you have the right size crate for them. Dogs who are confident and relaxed do the best, but crates help to make sure the dog is comfortable and secure. The crate for your dog should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around with ease. Crates offer good protection from flying objects in the car (eg. as a result of sudden stops or accidents). They will also prevent your dog from becoming a dangerous projectile.

4. Carry box

A carry box is a plush box that is great for small dogs who are anxious. The elevation of the box gives them a good view of their surroundings and their owner. These are used in conjunction with a dog harness to ensure that the dog stays put while riding.

5. Dog guard

These are best in the backseat or in the luggage space of an SUV. These dog guards work with all types of dogs, even small ones. They are great for dogs who enjoy moving around freely and being able to see you in the process. If you plan on using one of these guards, the best type to get is one that bolts to the roof and the floorboards. The guard ensures a dog doesn’t enter the front of the vehicle during an accident.

6. Backseat hammock

The backseat hammock is best for older dogs who want to lay down while they ride in the car. The hammock keeps them from falling off the seat while also stopping them from climbing up into the front of the car. A hammock with a non-slip covering helps to ensure your dog doesn’t slide off the seat. These are great for dogs of any size.

7. Backseat barrier

Best for large dogs, the backseat barrier is a setup that helps those dogs who become too anxious when they are restrained in the backseat. The barrier allows them the opportunity to see in front of the car and where they are going but keeps them from entering the front of the car. The barrier, when used correctly, can help block the dog from entering the front if hard braking occurs. But do keep in mind that dogs can still escape out of the vehicle if the back door opens during an accident.

What not to do?

Leashes - While any restraint is better than no restraint, leashes should never be clipped into a dog's collar and then into the car's seat-belt. A sudden stop or accident can cause the dog to choke. Always use a harness. And finally, remember to make sure that your dog is wearing up-to-date identification tags just in case he escapes during an accident.

Your lap - This can be very distracting, not only to you but to other drivers on the road. Your dog could block your view of the road, as well as your view of other drivers around you, if he’s leaning out the window. In fact, Hawaii has a law banning pets from riding in the driver’s lap. Many other states may cover dogs and other pets under their distracted driving laws.

Front passenger seat - If your dog sits in the front passenger seat, he is at risk of being injured by an airbag. If the car does not have passenger-side airbags, and if your dog must ride in the front passenger seat, he can sit next to you as long as he is properly restrained. Dog seat belts, which are usually safety harnesses that have a loop for seat belts to click through, are one way to properly restrain your dog. However, they are not all created equal—some of them can cause your dog to fly off the seat, as was found in a study conducted by the Center for Pet Safety®. Be sure to look for safety harnesses that have thick, padded straps to distribute the impact force as widely as possible. Tethers should be short and secure at the dog’s back, not the neck. Your dog should be able to comfortably sit upright or lie down while restrained.

Bed of pickup - Never let your dog ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Not only could your dog be injured in a rear collision, but he also could jump out. Dogs who ride here are also at risk of being hit by passing objects, such as road debris and tree branches.

Left attended - Restrained or not, never leave your dog unattended in the car, especially in hot weather. Even if your dog has water in the car, the temperature inside a closed car will rise instantly, especially in the summer, causing heatstroke or death. If you’re wondering, some of the signs of overheating/heatstrock in dogs include excessive panting, agitation, reddened gums, vomiting and diarrhea, and loss of consciousness.

What is legal in my state?

A few states have enacted laws that prohibit dogs from riding unrestrained. Others have ambiguous language that can leave it up to a police officer to cite drivers for distracted driving if a dog is found unrestrained or on the driver’s lap.

Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire have laws that require dogs in the bed of a truck be properly restrained. Connecticut and Arizona can use distracted driving laws to charge drivers who drive with pets on their laps.

Practical Tips for Travel with a Dog

You can travel with your dog. You just need to be safe doing so. In fact, there are people who prefer to take their pets with them everywhere they go. Others have support animals that accompany them wherever they go, so knowing travel safety can pay off.

Here are some of the tips you can use when travelling with your dog to make the trip better for you and you pup:

1. Make sure to make plenty of stops

Just like you need to stretch your legs or make a pitstop, so does your dog. They get just as bored in the car as anyone else. Even just letting them run off some built-up energy from during the trip before getting in the car again can help to make the rest of the trip more enjoyable.

2. Don’t start with a long journey

If you have never taken your dog for a long trip in the car, you can’t expect them to be able to make one successfully on their first time. Start with short trips to build confidence. Once they are more confident in the car, you can begin going for longer periods.

3. Don’t feed and drive

Dogs get motion sickness, too. Before taking a trip, it is recommended to make sure you have fed them within three hours of starting the journey.

4. Don’t let them hang out the window

Besides the obvious hanging appendage outside the car, it can also dry out your dog’s eyes which can be painful for them.

5. Don’t give treats while driving

If you give your dog a treat while you are driving, they could end up choking on it. You may not be able to get to them quickly enough.

6. Always turn on the air-conditioner

Dogs get hot in cars, so by having the air-conditioner on, you ensure ventilation and air circulation.

Animal Safety Matters

When we keep our dogs safe while travelling, we are also keeping ourselves safe. Remember that statistic at the beginning about your dog becoming a highly pressurized projectile in an accident? Nobody expects to get in an accident, but it is better to be safe than to risk the lives of everyone in the vehicle, including your dog.

Want to document your road trip with your pup? An IR dash cam system to help you capture the road ahead as well as record all the moments inside your car so you can keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. Safe Travels!

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