dogs in car harnesses

What You Need to Know About Pet Car Safety

In 2015, the Center for Pet Safety, Subaru of America and NASA engineers teamed up to test various pet restraints for their safety and ability to protect pets and their humans in a crash. The bad news is that most restraints failed catastrophically, despite manufacturer's claims that they were crash-tested. Animals (test dummies) suffered dismemberment or rocketed through or out of the car. A series of videos on the Center for Pet Safety shows the test results.

Only three restraints made the cut, one in each category:

Part of the problem, says Lindsey Wolko, founder and CEO of Center for Pet Safety, is that pet restraints are not regulated. This recent set of tests by an independent group establishes some basic facts that will help pet lovers.

Some car manufacturers install pet safety mechanisms. A favorite car among pet lovers is the Honda Element, which offers options like a cargo area cover, a door guard, a back seat pet barrier, universal pet barriers, dog harnesses and seat belts. These items were not part of the tests conducted by the Center for Pet Safety, Subaru and NASA engineers.

Are restraints necessary? Yes! For your safety and the safety of your pet, you must be aware of what could happen if you don't have restraints in place should you be involved in a crash. At the very least, pets are a distraction for drivers. In many places, legislation requires pet restraints or prohibits lap-sitting or even front seat riding. And in an accident, your pet could become a projectile. Even if your pet survives being thrown from the car, they could wander off or be hit by other traffic.

Inadequate or unsafe restraints contribute to driver distraction and danger to both pets and their humans. No booster seats survived scrutiny in the tests. An anxious pet in a booster seat may jump out and dangle from a restraint. Diverting your attention to rescue your pet makes you a distracted driver.

With regard to restraints, size matters. A large dog will do better with a harness, while a small dog will do better in a carrier. Set up any kind of restraint in the back seat and never put the pet restraint device in the front seat. An airbag can seriously harm a smaller dog.

Driving safely with your pet involves advance planning in five areas:

  • Preparation
  • Travel Set-up
  • Entering the Car
  • During Travel
  • Exiting the Car


Know your local regulations for driving with a pet. It might be worthwhile to check regulations in areas where you travel. In addition, it helps to know about your insurance coverage. If you are in an accident and get a ticket for distracted driving, your insurance will probably not cover you. Once you know what regulations require you to do, find out how to fulfill these requirements in the best way possible, and get the right equipment.

Travel Set-up

Now that you have an appropriate restraint set-up for your pet, it's time to prepare other items to make him or her comfortable and safe during your trip. Be sure your pet wears a collar with a name and address, and best practice is to micro-chip as well. Always carry water, even for a short trip, and if possible, a drinking bowl. Refresh the water daily. Keep these items in the body of the car, perhaps on the floor behind the passenger seat, where they are easily accessible. Keep small bags near the water for cleaning up after your dog, and reserve room for your leash in the same area. Food can remain in a trunk or other storage area.

Entering the Car

If you are not at your home, be sure to restrain your pet until safely closed in the car. Do not take your pet to the car until you are ready to get in yourself -- never leave pets in a car alone. Check that your pet is safely restrained in the back of the car before you begin to drive.

During Travel

For the health and safety of you and your pet, stop every 2-3 hours. You both need to move around, stretch your legs, drink water, perhaps eat, and use the potty. It's not good for any creature to sit for hours on end!

Exiting the Car

Whether you are leaving the car briefly for a rest stop or exiting the car for the night, be certain to leash your pet. Never leave your pet in the car. Cars get very hot or very cold quickly, and can be hazardous to your pet’s well-being.

With some care and planning and proper arrangements, traveling with pets is safe, happy, and a wonderful experience.

Share this post