What is the law for driving with dogs in cars?

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For many people, taking your dog in the car is one of those rare moments that only happens when the yearly vet check up is due.  Because it’s not done so often the first thing that happens is that they suddenly think – what is the law for driving with dogs in cars?  Is it even legal?

YES – The answer is that yes you can drive with a dog in the car but that they must be suitably restrained.

The Highway Code states in rule 57 “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.” [source]


It must be noted that this isn’t a legal requirement, but it is required that you are not distracted as a driver.  If you are then you could be liable to being pulled over by the police for not taking due care and attention which could also mean points on your license.


If your dog is loose on the back seat, jumping over from the boot space into another area or even licking your face as you drive it can be a serious distraction.  It’s not safe, can cause accidents and should be avoided at all costs.


There is also a safety aspect to making sure your dog is restrained while driving.


While it’s cute to see a dog with his head hanging out the side of a car while driving, they could be distracted by another dog on the pavement, a cat or just get spooked by something.  They could very easily jump out into traffic and cause an accident or be run over themselves.


It’s always best to keep windows up as much as possible while a dog is in the car to prevent this from happening.  Leaving open a small amount for air should be fine though.


If a dog isn’t restrained in a car and you’re involved in an accident a further scary thing could happen.


Just as you see in crash test videos with people flying through the windscreen, this could be your pet too.  In an emergency braking scenario a dog can be thrown through the windscreen or, if they are in the back seat, hurled towards the front passengers.


This can cause serious damage to both the dog and to any person who the dog might come into contact with.  In a worst case scenario the dog could kill a person sat in front of them and lose his own life too.


Don’t think that if you have a small dog you are ok – they can still be thrown with some serious force.  Small or big dog – the risks are the same.


So what can you do to restrain your dog in the car?

The perfect solution is going to depend on your dog and his personality.  It might depend on whether they are used to being in a car or not.


You have a few options – seat belt and harness, a cage or a dog guard in the boot.


Harness and seat belt

If you often take your dog out with you, perhaps sitting him on the seat with you and he’s used to it, then a good way to restrain him might be by using a harness with seat belt adaptor.  It should still feel similar for them but they and you have the added peace of mind that they are restrained and safe in an accident.


This is the way that we travel with our dog and it’s worked quite well.  We use a Kurgo dog harness which has been crash tested for use in cars and seems very safe.


Annie in the car and demonstrating safety with her car harness from Kurgo!


You can also get booster seats or car seat carriers that might work for smaller dogs.  Often they are similar and have a harness which attaches to the dog and to the seat belt.



Crates or cages

Crates or cages can work well for puppies on their first journey in a car because they are still growing and fidgety.  Older dogs can sometimes enjoy the feeling of their own space in a crate too.  Nervous or anxious dogs who might get stressed in the car might find a crate helpful too.


Crates should be placed securely in a boot or if they are on the back seat with the seat belt around them.  You can get sturdy metal cages for if you’re going to use them often, plastic ones for smaller dogs or even fabric carriers that could work too.


Dog guards

Finally you have the dog guards that can be put up between either the boot and the rear seats or between the front seats and the rear seats.  Many of these are available and can fit almost all cars.


The good thing about these are that you know that your dog has space to lie out in the boot and is safe from jumping over.


The downside is that in an accident your dog still has the chance of being hurt because he’s not restrained himself.  He shouldn’t cause injury to others but can be injured himself.


There are lots of options to keep you and your dog safe, and legal, while driving in a car and many of them are inexpensive too.


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