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Are Car Restraints for Dogs Just One Big Farce?

It seems so: A recent test shows popular brands utterly failed in crashworthiness. So now what?

 |  Nov 12th 2012  |   43 Contributions


“My dog sits still most of the time and does not need a restraint when traveling.”

“My dog would never allow me to restrain him in the car.”

“I don’t go on long trips, so I don’t need to buckle my dog up when traveling.”

Do any of the above questions apply to you? If so, you are not in the minority. According to the 2011 AAA/Kurgo Pet Passenger Safety Survey, 84 percent of respondents bring their dogs on car trips but do not use a restraint. I sheepishly bow my head and admit to falling in that 84 percent now and again for the “short trip to the park” treks we make just about daily. This might not be such a bad thing, or so it seems, in light of recent findings released by the Center for Pet Safety.

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Do pet restraints live up to their hype?

In July, the Center for Pet Safety ran a series of videos from its pilot study of the “crash-worthiness” of canine automotive restraints. They report a third-party independent test lab, MGA Research Corporation, tested a variety of pet harnesses to the conditions of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213 for child safety restraints.

The results were a complete failure -- for ALL restraints tested. Four harnesses were tested in the control group, and every time there were multipoint failures. At one point, the videos reveal a complete separation from the connection point; another shows an instance of complete decapitation of the test (dummy) dog as a result of the harness moving upward on impact. In its press release, the Center for Pet Safety reported, “no protection would be provided to either the dog or to vehicle occupants in similar crash conditions.”

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With a name like Travelin' Jack, Jill Lane hits the open road with her pooch often.

So what is a dog parent to do in order to protect Fido while traveling? After all, humans are required to buckle up, and in many states, so is Rover.

An unrestrained 80-pound dog in a wreck going 30 miles per hour equates to 2,400 pounds of projectile force, per the AAA/Kurgo study. If traveling through a state such as New Jersey, I could be fined if Fido is sans seatbelt (should present legislation succeed in becoming law). Pets are not allowed on the lap of Hawaiian drivers, and in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, laws pertaining to distracted drivers can be enforced where pets are involved. Now what?

A dire need exists for a product that will comfortably restrain a dog yet allow some flexibility in movement while traveling. Sleepypod, a company that designs products for pet safety at home and during travel, took a step in the right direction. They hired a crash-test facility sponsored by the United States’ Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to test the crash-worthiness of its entire line of pet carriers.

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Sleepypod test dog, Max, gets ready for a test drive.

Each of Sleepypod’s pet carriers passed a 30 mph frontal crash test. The crash tests were performed at this speed because that is the standard for child safety seats in the United States. There is NO legal standard for car restraint systems (or crash worthiness of carriers) for pets. Video footage of Sleepypod’s Pet Passenger Restraint Systems showed that they remained intact, without damage. Personally, I would love to run out and purchase the Sleepypod, but my dog is well over the maximum 15 pounds that the Sleepypod safely allows.

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Putting pedal to the metal, Sleepypod tests their pet restraints and carriers.

Dog parents are faced with a dilemma: To buckle or not to buckle. Alternative options include a crate or kennel, a car seat (such as a booster seat), or a car barrier designed to block off a section of the vehicle. I know of someone who was in an accident with her two medium-sized dogs and credits a floor-to-ceiling metal gate with saving the lives of her dogs when her vehicle was rear-ended.

According to BarkBuckleUp.com, “Restraints help protect pets in case of a collision and keep pets from running loose and distracting the driver.”

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Some states require Fido to buckle up.

It seems pet parents are left with a frenzy of information to decipher on their own. I write about pet products often and have traveled with dogs for 20 years, and I, too, am dizzied and left wondering, “So now what?” Loose, unrestrained dogs can not only distract the driver but may be killed or injured by airbags. Sudden stops pose projectile dangers, and free-roaming Fido can easily block or move the gear shift, steering wheel, or gas pedals. One of my greatest fears is getting in an accident and having my panicked dog escape, become lost and never recovered.

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Millions of dogs are riding shotgun with us.

I thought researching this piece would provide me with a sense of security, but I feel very uneasy by the massive amount of pet-restraint options and the lack of solid proof that they work. Lindsey Wolko founded the Center for Pet Safety in 2011, after she was in a car accident with her pooch, Maggie. At the time, Maggie was restrained in a harness, but she suffered spinal injuries as a result of the accident. In other words, the harness failed.

The Today show recently aired a segment on the topic. In two of the tests performed on a 55-pound test dog, the harnesses snapped completely and the dog was sent flying through the air, unprotected. However, Walko is not blaming the manufacturers, and says in the segment that she feels the lack of safety standards is the real issue.

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Dexter wears a harness that doubles as a restraint in the car.

For me, I sit Driving Miss Daisy-style most times in the car, as a family member drives with me and my harnessed pooch in the back seat. I still wonder how to best protect him and what to report to the more than 78 million dogs who live in U.S. households. No doubt, millions of them are traveling with their pet parents, restrained and unrestrained. Now, I am not so sure which of the two is the lesser evil.

Do you restrain your dog when traveling? Do the findings of the Center for Pet Safety report alarm you? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credits: Dog in Car at top via Shutterstock; all others courtesy Carol Bryant

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