Most of us won’t get behind the wheel of a car without buckling up. Parents wouldn’t dream of driving without their baby or toddler secured in a car seat. For many of us, putting on a seat belt is as natural as breathing. So why is it that only 16 percent of us restrain our dogs in the car? That was the finding of a pet travel survey sponsored by AAA and Kurgo Pet Products.
Are you part of the 84 percent of people who said they don’t buckle up their dogs? Even if you’re part of the 16 percent who do restrain their dogs in the car, here are seven car safety facts all pet parents need to know:
1. The laws of physics apply to your dog
When it comes to bad things, you may suffer from the optimist mentality: “It won’t happen to me.” Lots of people think their dog will be fine even if they are involved in an accident. Well I have news for you: All pets, people, and inanimate objects are subject to the laws of physics. In an accident, an unrestrained dog can go flying — against the dashboard or backseat, out a window, or even through the windshield. Best-case scenario in a low-speed crash: Your dog is just a little dazed. Worst-case scenario in a high-speed collision or rollover? Your dog is dead.
2. Your dog may survive the accident, but face other dangers
An unrestrained dog can be ejected during a crash or escape through a broken window. Frightened and possibly hurt, your dog could run off — right into oncoming traffic. Or your dog could run away from traffic and become lost. Also, first responders have reported dogs in cars who have guarded their injured owners, preventing paramedics from helping them. It’s not unheard of for typically sweet dogs to become aggressive when trapped or wounded. The police or paramedics may do whatever is necessary help the humans first.
3. Your dog can injure you in an accident
According to the AAA/Kurgo survey, an unrestrained 10-pound dog riding in a car traveling 50 miles per hour will exert around 500 pounds of force when they go flying in a crash. An unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 miles per hour will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of force. You and other passengers — especially children — can be seriously injured or even killed by the impact of an unrestrained dog.
4. Your dog can be killed by the airbag
Airbags save lives, but they explode with so much force that they can severely injure or even kill lightweight front-seat passengers. That’s why children 12 and younger are not supposed to ride up front. This rule applies to dogs too. It’s not safe for dogs to ride in the front seat (especially not in the driver’s lap, where they can be crushed by the steering wheel or airbag). Some newer cars have weight sensors in the front passenger seat that override the airbag if the passenger is under a certain weight. If your car doesn’t, be sure to manually turn off the airbag when your dog rides in a harness on the passenger seat. If you can’t turn the airbag off, keep your dog safely restrained in the back seat.
5. Your dog distracts you in the car
You probably don’t even notice it, but your dog is distracting you in the car. The AAA/Kurgo study found that 65 percent of respondents had engaged in one or more distracting activities while driving with their dog. These included petting their dog, using their hands or arms to block the dog’s movement or stop him from climbing from the backseat to the front, holding the dog in place when braking, reaching into the backseat to touch the dog, holding the dog while driving, giving the dog food or treats, playing with the dog, and taking a photo of the dog.
A crate or carrier won’t help if it’s not properly secured
A crate or carrier can be a good restraint system as long as it’s properly secured. Some smaller carriers are designed to be used with the vehicle’s seat belt. Large crates may need to be lashed to the floor of an SUV or a van. The Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit research and consumer advocacy organization, crash-tests a number of different carriers and crates .
All dog seat belts are not created equal
There are many doggie seat belts on the market, but only a few have passed independent crash-testing. A restraint is only life-saving if it actually works in a crash. To learn more about crash-testing, take a look at the studies done by the Center for Pet Safety. To learn more about dogs and car safety, check out “How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Comfortable in the Car.”
My Miniature Poodle Jäger does not ride in the car without his seat belt. We use the Sleepypod Clickit Sport—the only seat belt currently crash-test certified by Center for Pet Safety. It’s easy to use and comfortable for him to wear. It gives me peace of mind to know he is safe, and since he can’t roam around, he is less distracting to me while I’m driving.
In the end, I think choosing not to use a car restraint for your dog mostly boils down to that feeling of “It won’t happen to me” or “My dog will be fine.” There was a time when seat belts were not commonly used by human passengers and car seats were not used for babies. (I have a photo taken in the 1970s of my baby brother asleep in a basket on the backseat of our car — a car that did not have seat belts.) But of course we know better now. Seat belts (and car seats) save lives. This applies no less to your dog than it does to your baby or yourself. So buckle up — your dog, too. If you’re ever in an accident, you’ll be glad you did!