Keeping Your Pets Safe in a Car

I’ve talked before about keeping kids safe in and around cars, but what about pets?

People send their pets to doggie daycare and grooming ‘salons’ and spend more than we do on our own haircuts; they get the best vet treatment when it’s needed.

One area that continues to be an issue however is pet safety in the car. Every summer, you’ll read or hear news stories about dogs left in the car while the owner went shopping, only to die in the extreme heat. It’s so unnecessary and cruel.

To my knowledge, there’s not much you can do if your pet is injured, but if your pet causes you to have an accident, and that injuries another person, that’s a serious issue that can be avoided.

The following are some easy tips to keep in mind so that your pet can travel with you in the car and everyone, yourself included and others, are kept safe.

Vehicle Restraints Work In The Right Place

Kids are safest in car seats in the back seat, and frankly, the same is true for your dog. Well, maybe not a car seat, but you can get a harness and restraint that buckles into the seat belt, so that your dog is safely ensconced in the back seat.

This can save both theirs and your life, in the event of an accident, as they won’t become a 20+ pound projectile, flying out the front windshield. Someone actually did the math:

“The pet advocacy group Bark Buckle UP notes that in a 35-mile-per-hour accident, an unrestrained 60-pound dog would carry the force of a 2,700-pound projectile.” (Source) P

lus, an unrestrained pet can be ejected from the car, even at a lower speed impact. What we would consider a fender bender could be deadly for Fido and other drivers around you.

Although my practice is about protecting humans, I’d be remiss not to include a few words about protecting your dogs as well… While some might opt for crates or dividers in an SUV back to keep the dogs and humans separate, neither of these are useful in actually protecting the dog from injury.

Seatbelts are what decelerate the human body in a crash, as internal injuries are the most severe issue to consider. So your seatbelt prevents your body from hitting the dash or steering wheel, decelerating your body’s forward momentum in a crash, and protecting those vital organs.

The same is true if you use appropriate restraint for your pet. “If you’ve got a dog in a crate, and they’re bouncing around like a marble inside that crate, then the damage is being done.” (Source)

One issue that people rarely consider is that even if your pet manages to stay safe during an accident, they could panic, get out of the car in the aftermath and get hurt or cause further accidents, running around loose on the road.

Some first responders have even mentioned being unable to attend to an injured passenger because the dog was protecting them.

Distracted Driving Includes Pets

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving and seen someone driving with their little fluffy dog on their lap or looking out the window. Like all manner of distracted driving, this is another example that can go from cute to deadly in the blink of an eye.

All it takes is for the animal to start barking at a passing dog to startle you, so that you take your eyes off the road to deal with them.

Or worse, a case like a friend of mine, whose six-month old dog Scout got so excited when she saw the dogpark they were passing in the car, that she jumped out of the window of the moving vehicle and heedlessly raced the park! Scout was fine, but that could have gone very differently for both the dog and the motorists around them. Suffice to say, Scout now wears a harness in the car.

If you get into an accident because you are distracted by your pet, it’s as bad as if you were on your phone, at least according to the police. So keeping your pet restrained is important.

There are a couple of Ontario Highway Traffic Act laws that can be applied, when dealing with the transportation of animals including:

  • Insecure Load (section 111(2) of the HTA) Offence: Dog loose in the back of a truck. No animal should be loose in the back box of a pickup truck. Animals need to be secured by way of a crate and the crate also needs to be secured.
  • Careless driving (section 130 of the HTA) Offence: Dog on the lap of a driver. Having an animal on the lap of a driver puts the operator of the vehicle, the occupants and other drivers at risk of injury. Animals should be in the back seat secured by way of crate or seatbelt harness. (Source)

A Few Other Tips

If your pet is a feline, cat carriers are the best way to keep them safe. A soft sided carrier that is clipped to the seat belt will keep them in place in the event of an accident without having them ricocheting about in a hard crate. But even the hard ones are better than nothing.

Also, in the winter, animals like outdoor cats, squirrels and others, like to sleep under warm cars so give a quick beep of the horn before you start up your car, to make sure no one is taking a catnap below, or even in the engine area of your car.

Bottom line, driving safely with your pet ensures three things:

  1. That you won’t be distracted by them while driving.
  2. That they don’t become a projectile in the event of an accident.
  3. Your pet will be restrained post-accident.

And if you know you’re going to have to get out of the car for any length of time, leave them at home. That’s just safer for everyone.


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