dog at crash scene

What Happens to a Dog in a Car Accident?

Over half of dog owners drive with their dog in the car at least once a month, yet only 16% of them report using a restraint for their dog while in the vehicle. Whether your dog is accompanying you on a cross-country road trip, or you’re simply chauffeuring him to a vet appointment, keep in mind that the ever-present risk of collision effects canine and human passengers alike.

Unrestrained Dogs Become Projectiles

The force of a collision will send any loose objects in the vehicle flying, including unrestrained pups. This is dangerous not only for the dog, but also for any other people in the vehicle who might be struck by a canine cannon-ball careening through the vehicle. If unrestrained, a 10-pound dog will exert about 500 pounds of force in a collision at 30 MPH. An 80-pound dog will exert around 2,400 pounds of force under the same conditions. It is for this reason that properly restraining and securing your dog is crucial. There are a variety of harness devices available that connect to the vehicle’s seat belt or LATCH system, many of which do a good job of keeping dogs in place during an accident. Crating your dog during car trips is another good idea, as long as you strap down or otherwise secure the crate itself. Barrier systems that corral pets into the rear seat area work well to reduce driver distraction, but in a collision they afford no protection from crash forces, and they do little to prevent the animals from becoming airborne.

Dogs and Airbags

You wouldn’t want to let your dog ride in the front seat for the same reason you don’t let a small child ride in front — if the airbag is deployed, it can cause death or significant injury, regardless of whether or not they are restrained. Smaller dogs are particularly vulnerable. Your dog is safest when he is restrained properly in the rear seat. If cargo or space limitations force you to let your dog ride in the front seat, be sure to disable the passenger-side airbag, and to use a restraint that prevents them from moving or leaning out of their seat, where they could be exposed to the driver’s side airbag.

Dogs Riding on the Driver’s Lap

This is a particularly dangerous way to ride with your dog in the car. The factors we’ve already discussed are exemplified in this scenario. A dog on a lap is subject to injury if the airbag deploys, and it is impossible to use a proper restraint system while the dog is sitting on top of you, meaning your dog will become a projectile in a collision. Additionally, this greatly increases driver distraction, making the possibility of a crash much more likely. The state of Hawaii specifically forbids driving with a dog on your lap, and Oregon is considering similar legislation. In several other states, you can be charged with distracted driving for having a dog on your lap.

Dogs in Truck Beds

There is an ongoing debate over whether or not it is possible for a dog to safely ride in the bed of a pickup truck. Collisions aside, there are numerous hazards associated with dogs riding whilst exposed to the open air (this applies to dogs hanging out of car windows as well), including debris entering their eyes, nostrils, or mouth. Temperature and weather conditions are also a concern. Some cities even have local ordinances prohibiting transport of dogs in the bed of a truck.

Common sense dictates that under no circumstances is it ever acceptable for a dog to ride in the bed of a truck unrestrained. Even if your dog is so well behaved that you know he won’t jump out of the truck, there would be nothing to stop him from being thrown from the truck in the event of an accident, or even a bump in the road. Tethers and leashes can be just as dangerous, and in many cases have resulted in dogs being dragged along the pavement.

It is always safest for your dog to ride in the cab rather than the bed. For trucks that have a back seat, the rear of the cab is ideal. As with other vehicles, dogs should be properly restrained or crated to avoid additional injury if a collision occurs.

Keeping Your Dog Safe

How can you tell which device will be the safest for your dog, and give him the best chance of surviving a crash? The truth is that the majority of dog harnesses and crates are not crash tested. These devices are not government regulated in the way that, for example, child car seats are, and so many manufacturers opt not to perform any testing or studies on these products. Some manufacturers do claim testing of specific products, including the following:

The Center for Pet Safety has conducted their own testing of several products, the results of which can be viewed on their website.

Injuries and Vet Bills

If your dog is injured in a car accident and requires veterinary attention, there is a chance that your auto insurance will cover some portion of it. Read through the “collision” section of your policy to find out if your insurance company provides coverage for pet injuries. Oftentimes, insurance companies will only cover pet injuries if you were not at fault, and they may require a police report as verification of this. There may be a limit to how much of the bill they will cover, generally a specific dollar amount. If you feel that your dog isn’t adequately covered by your insurance policy, you may want to consider purchasing pet insurance which would cover not only car-related injuries, but other types of injuries and illness as well.

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