Riding in the Car Safely with Fido: Seat Belts & Harnesses

You are about to go on vacation and you are thinking about taking your dog with you.  Should you get poochie a seat belt or let him roam free?

You are headed to the grocery store, it’s just three blocks away.  Spot just loves to stick his head out the window, why not let him come along too?

You need to go to the nursery and pick up some mulch and Smokey wants to ride in the back of the truck.  There’s more than enough room for the both of them.  Why not let Smokey do what he wants and be happy?

According to AAA, “An overwhelming 84 percent of survey respondents stated that they have driven with their pets on a variety of car trips, including day trips, local errands and leisure trips, the pet store, dog parks, and to work. However, only 16 percent use any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog.”

According to this report from ABCNews, here is some info on why you want to restrain your  pet when out and about.  The full video can be found here.

Screen shot 2012 09 27 at 9.37.21 AM Riding in the Car Safely with Fido: Seat Belts & Harnesses

ABCNews Report on Distracting Dogs.

That New Jersey Pet Safety Belt Amendment mentioned in the report was passed, so if you have a pet who is loose in the car and you live in New Jersey, you will be facing a fine equal to the amount you would pay for an unbelted person ($250 to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail).  The New Jersey Pet Safety Belt Amendment states that “(f)or example, an unsecured, 25-pound dog in a 40 miles per hour crash becomes a 1,000-pound mass flying object inside the vehicle that could produce serious injury or death to vehicle passengers.” How horrible.  Which begs the question: Why wouldn’t you want to restrain your pet?  Other states are looking into adding this law and many states have laws against driving with your dog in the back of your truck unrestrained.

Think about it.  Inside your car, on the loose, they can roam around, jump into your lap and distract you.  AAA says that, 52% of drivers have pet their dog while driving and another 17% allowed Snuggums up into their lap. And if you have one of those pocket pooches?  What is to stop them from running around in the wheelwell and then crossing over to your driver’s side and getting in the way of the gas and break pedal?  Dangerous, dangerous!

Not to mention all the dangers that can occur just by letting them stick their heads out the window.  Let’s see: getting debris in their eyes, ears, mouth.  Accidentally ingesting bugs.  Oh, is your dog allergic to bees?  Sticking his head out the window, certainly isn’t a good idea. Ever had your husband not pay to close attention to where he was going and scrape the side of the car against the bushes?  If your dog’s face is hanging out there, it could get ugly and expensive and cost you a trip to the vets.

Fortunately, there are many types of restraints out there to purchase.  Jenna Stregowske, an RVT and an About.com guide has an excellent post on car restraints for dogs. In it she outlines four main types of restraints that are available:

  1. Crate or Kennel:  This is what is recommended by AAA, vets, and most places as the first course of action.  Make sure that the crate is stabilized in your car and that the crate is not in a crumple zone.  You want to have a smaller crate because there will still be some movement of the dog in the crate, so a smaller crate limits the area he/she will be thrown around in the event of an accident.  Remember to have your dog’s collar, leash and tags on while in the crate and traveling.
  2. Car Harness/Seat Belt:These allow the dog to sit up on the seat in the back.  The back seat is the safest seat for the dog to be seated as it is away from the airbag.  The airbag can be very hazardous to a dog sitting in the front seat.  You want to try on several types of harnesses and belts and make sure that you are comfortable with how they fit on your dog.  You also want to make sure that the belt/harness works with how your dog sits in the car.  Below I have some links to actual users of the seat belts, so you can get a feel for what real people like and dislike about different belts.  Make sure the system latches into your car’s safety belt system. Note: avoid anything that asks you to hook something onto your dog’s neck.  That’s a sure way to strangle your dog or snap its neck.
      Reviews of Seatbelts:

    • Reviews of the Roadie and Champion belts from Dogster are here.
    • Reviews of the PetBuckle Seat Belt Harness are here.
    • Reviews of the USA K9 Outfitters Seat Belts are here.
  3. Car Seat/Basket:  These should only be used with small dogs.  Make sure that you are actually getting something that will protect your pet and isn’t just a pet bed.  You need something that will secure them and hook them into the car’s safety system.  Note: avoid anything that asks you to hook something onto your dog’s neck.  That’s a sure way to strangle your dog or snap its neck.
  4. Car Barrier:  My impression was that AAA felt like the car barrier was next to useless.  Jenna seemed to think it was better than nothing.  I say, use a crate or a seat belt.

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University advises that you use a dog seat belt or a crate when transporting your dog.  They also recommend that your pet’s collar and leash with ID tags are on your pet.  This idea is to help in the recovery of your pet should there be an accident and your dog escapes from the car.

Another reason to have your dog restrained is to help emergency workers in the event of an accident.  Hurt and injured dogs are unpredictable.  Having your pet restrained protects him and the emergency workers from harm.  It also helps ensure that he won’t escape or if he does, that it will be easier to find him because he has all of his ID on him with a leash to easily snag him.

 A Personal Story

In researching reviews and background for this post, I came across a very moving personal story.  I thought I would share part of it here, with a link to the whole piece if you were still interested.  Paula is handicapped and uses a wheelchair and is assisted by her service dog Joella.  One day, there was an accident.

Slip Sliding Away….

It was pouring rain. The dirt road was rutted, slick, steep, and had that big hump in the middle. Just as it started to level off, we slid into a ditch. We landed partway on the driver’s side of the van. My wheelchair was almost in my lap, its simple restraint broken. But Joella, who was in the back of the van, got tossed through the air, hitting all sorts of things along the way.

I was trapped in the driver’s seat. Joella was whimpering.

But God and luck where on our side. A woman happened to be coming down the hill just behind me. She rushed to the van, made sure I was okay, and called the Fire Department. Her husband works there and she was on her way to take his lunch. The big fire truck arrived and, while they could get me out, they could not get to Joella. They hooked the van (a giant Chevy G20) to a winch and, after some fancy tricks using the rope, the winch, and a tree, the van was pulled out of the ditch.

One of the firemen checked Joella out for me. She was scared and still whining, but fine. After much thanks, we got back into the van and continued on our way. I do well in a crisis and remain cool headed and intelligent. However, once it is over, I turn into a quivering mass of jelly. We pulled into a parking lot and I lay on the back bench with Joella, crying and holding her tight.

Joella now has a seat belt of her very own and I now have a truck with four wheel drive. Joella’s seatbelt, after trying out various ones, is a padded harness attached to the seat belt via a tab (short loop leash) that has the seat belt through it. Joella goes everywhere with me in the truck. On these country roads, you never know what will be in the road around the bend: anything from a stalled tractor to an irritated bull to cyclists. Brake slamming and swerves are a regular occurrence. Our Service Dogs do a lot to help us and it is our duty to keep them safe and healthy.

Here’s a link to her full story and recommendations/reviews.


This issue is very important.  You shouldn’t be driving with your dog unrestrained.  You wouldn’t do it with your child.  So, read some reviews, pick out something that works for you and your furry baby.

At Southeastern Guide Dogs, as puppy raisers, our manual instructs us to have our dog either in a crate or on a tie down in the floorboard of the car in a down-stay.  The tie down is not needed if there is a passenger to hold the leash and make sure the down-stay command is adhered to.  Our dogs are never allowed to roam free, be alone in the car, stick their heads out of the window of a moving car, ride on the seats, or ride in the back of a truck.  And I can tell you, they all love riding in the car.  It hasn’t damaged them one bit!

Trust me.  Being safe, is the better choice.  Be safe out there!

One thought on “Riding in the Car Safely with Fido: Seat Belts & Harnesses

  1. Excellent safety article for each of us. As I got behind the driver’s seat today, I noticed just above the windshield that little visor one may pull down when needed. Posted right there in very large print was a warning to a driver never to place a child in the front seat. The warning explained that an airbag could kill a child.  Well, if an airbag being deployed could kill a child riding in the front seat, it could also kill one’s dog riding in the front seat. Please be careful. Let your dog ride safely in the second row seat, safely crated, with the crate secured to the seat belt.

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