Pet Safety In Cars

January 17, 2020||

Most of us are happy to see dogs and cats sitting in the car next to us while we’re driving, but what most of us don’t realize are the potential distractions they can cause and the chance that they can get injured if not properly secured. Driving can be scary for some pets, they may try to escape or get your attention, so it’s important to consider the pet’s safety when they’re in a car. 

Yes, it’s cute to see them sitting on a lap, in the back seat, or in the bed of a truck, but if their safety is our priority, we should do our best to make sure they’re safe and secure, that we know the laws regarding pets in cars, and we’re aware of the dangers of leaving them alone in a car. Below we outline some things to consider for the next time you decide to take your pet with you for a drive. 

Keep them safely secured

When taking your pet out for a drive, whether it’s just a quick trip or a longer one, it’s important to think about how they’ll ride with you. When we talk about pet safety in cars, what we’re really trying to do is keep their ability to free-roam limited so that they don’t cause distractions. It’s also important to think about how deceleration is affecting your pet, you don’t want your pet to be uncomfortable or potentially get injured every time you brake. 

There are a few options available that help make sure your pet is secure and safe when riding in a car or truck. First, using a harness that attaches to your seat can help keep your pet secure and safe. There are harnesses for dogs of all sizes, a harness that doesn’t fit well can be more dangerous than not having one, so be sure to measure their chest and neck before buying anything. 

A carrier will work a lot better than a harness for smaller pets under 15 pounds. Carriers are a lot like baby seats, they attach to your car’s seat belt and have an additional tether that attaches to your pet’s harness. A carrier will not only keep them comfortable in their own little seat, but prevent them from moving around the car and causing distractions. 

If your pet usually sits in the back seat, consider getting a back seat barrier. Barriers divide the front and back seats to prevent your pet from jumping over to the front, and can also help stop your pet from launching towards the windshield in the event of a hard-brake or crash. 

Dangers of leaving pets unattended in cars 

Every year pets die in cars because their owners are unaware of the dangers that come with carelessly leaving them in an unattended car. Unlike humans, dogs and cats are more vulnerable to heat stroke. They don’t sweat like us, and they certainly don’t know how to turn on the A/C when they feel the heat rising. The temperature inside your car can easily rise to 30 degrees hotter than the temperature outside. Even a mild 70 degrees can shoot up to 100 degrees inside your car, and cracking the windows won’t make much of a difference. Even though all pets can suffer inside a hot or cold car, there are some pets with characteristics that make it even harder to cool down or breath. Pets with long or thick fur can get hot fast and it’ll take them a while to cool down. Some animals that are especially vulnerable to the dangers of being left in a car are the very young ones or older ones, some of which may even have medical conditions and need medication. Short-nosed dogs, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers, are even more unsafe inside a hot car as they already have a hard time breathing.  

Laws regarding pets safety in cars 

There are no federal laws that say your pet can’t ride on your lap, but in some states it’s prohibited. In Hawaii, it’s illegal to drive around with your pet on your lap, and in New Jersey, you can get a citation if authorities find that an animal is being “improperly transported.” Driving with your dog unsecured in the bed of a pickup truck is illegal in California and Massachusetts. So depending on the state, you may or may not have to keep your pet safely secured. But since your pet faces the same dangers you do when not wearing a seatbelt, it’s best to make sure they’re protected. 

Other laws to consider for pet safety in cars are the laws that prohibit leaving animals inside an unattended car in high or low temperatures. Only 31 states have laws that specifically prohibit leaving animals locked inside a hot car, but all 50 states protect animals from neglect, cruelty, and abuse. So it could be argued that pets who are left in a car with extreme heat or cold temperatures, lack of ventilation, or lack proper food or drink, are victims of cruelty. 

It’s happened before in Texas, in the case of Lopez v. State, where the defendant left his dog in his car on a hot sunny day while he went to the theatre to watch a movie. Despite Texas not having a law that specifically protects dogs in hot cars, he was convicted under the state’s anti-cruelty law. 

Some states allow people break into cars to rescue animals in danger. In some states you might have to pay for damages, but for many, saving a life is worth it. If you see an animal in a parked car, make an effort to find the owner. If you can’t find them, call animal control and the police to report the incident. It’s also necessary to remain with the dog or cat until help arrives, but if help takes too long, use your own judgement and consider the consequences of breaking and entering to save the animal. 


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