car accident attorneyTraveling with Pets 

Most dogs love to hang their heads out the window while riding in the car. And who doesn’t love to bring their pets with them on a road trip? Pets are part of the family and hold a special place in our hearts. But the reality is that having a pet loose in the car can be a serious hazard while driving. Just taking your eyes off the road for a moment to look at your pet could cause a collision, and the chances of a car accident only increase if your pet is moving around the car or sitting on your lap.

There are safe ways to travel with your pet in the car. However, if you don’t practice proper pet safety while driving, you may end up getting hurt or hurting others.  

Why Is It Dangerous to Have a Pet Loose in the Car?

Your pet loves to have your full attention. And you love to give it—even while driving. However, while you’re driving, your pet might be:

  • Hanging his head out the window
  • Looking photogenic curled up on the seat next to you
  • Reacting to cars, people, or animals it sees out the window
  • Asking for treats or affection

Your pet’s antics make it all too easy to take your eyes off the road to look at them, pat their head, give them a treat, or situate them in your lap. But even if your pet is being more pesky than playful, they can pose a danger. A loose pet in the car can get in the way of actually operating the vehicle—especially if they are on your lap while you’re driving.

If a pet is in your space while driving, they can very easily: 

  • Bump into or lean on the steering wheel
  • Get under your feet while you’re driving
  • Block your line of sight
  • Shift the car into a different gear
  • Distract your attention

Having any moving object wandering around the car while it’s moving is dangerous. And not just for you! Unsecured pets are much more likely to be injured or killed if there is an accident and they are loose in the car.  

Despite these dangers, in a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), researchers found that:

  • Only 16 percent of respondents who take their pets on trips practice proper pet car safety
  • Over 50 percent of respondents who travel with their pets in the car admitted that they have taken their hands off the wheel to pet their dog while driving
  • 17 percent of respondents admitted that they allow their pet to sit in their lap while they’re driving
  • 13 percent of respondents give their dogs treats while driving
  • 4 percent of respondents admitted that they actually play with their dog while they’re driving 

This survey suggests that people are either unaware of or disregard the very real dangers that go along with pet distractions in the car. In fact, having a loose pet in the car can have serious legal and physical consequences. 

Is It Against the Law to Drive with a Pet Loose in the Car?

Laws governing pets in cars vary by state. But even if your state does not have a law prohibiting traveling with loose pets in the car, you are still required to take reasonable safety precautions when driving. 

Drivers always have an obligation to exercise reasonable care when driving. Breaching that duty to exercise reasonable care leaves a driver vulnerable to a negligence claim if there is an accident. There are many ways that a driver can be negligent: 

  • Drunk driving
  • Driving too fast
  • Not obeying traffic laws
  • Distracted driving
  • Failure to maintain the vehicle

Having a loose pet in the car could be considered a distraction while driving and may subject you to liability for any accidents that occur because of the distraction. This means that even if there is no law in your state against having a loose pet in the car, you still could be liable for any damages resulting from an accident if being distracted by your pet caused you to have the accident. Under this circumstance, you could be found to be negligent and may be financially responsible for the damages that result to you or to others. 

Are There Ways to Take Your Pet in the Car Safely?

The risk of injury to a loose animal in a car is no different than the risk of injury to a child who is not secured with a seat belt. But just as with a child, there are ways that you can make it safer for your pet to travel with you in the car.  

When you’re driving, you wear a seatbelt. Children also wear seatbelts when in the car. These restraints make driving much safer for everyone in the car. There are also restraints for pets that will greatly increase your safety while driving with your pet. There are several options available for restraining your pet safely in the car:

  • A harness seat belt
  • A zipline harness
  • A dog crate
  • A dog guard
  • A backseat hammock

Which restraint method is best for you and your dog will depend on your dog’s size, temperament, and emotional needs. A harness seatbelt is a good choice for a calm, dependable dog who is comfortable being confined to one spot in the car. If your dog needs a little bit more freedom, a zipline harness will allow them to move around, but in a restricted area.

A dog crate might work best if your dog is already crate-trained and comfortable in this space. Just be sure to have a crate that is an appropriate size for your pet. Adding blankets and toys can make a crate a cozy and relaxing place for your dog to ride out the journey. 

Options like a dog hammock or a dog guard are good for larger dogs and longer trips. You can place either one in the back area of the car, giving your dog more freedom to roam and look out the back windows without being a danger to you while driving. 

Of course, even if you are being safe about having your dog in the car, there is always the chance of having an accident for other reasons. Harness seat belts, zipline harnesses, or crates offer your pet the most protection in the event of an accident. 

Minimize the Dangers of Traveling with Your Loose Pet in the Car

For many, pets are members of the family, and family trips just wouldn’t be the same without them. However, it is important make sure that both you and your pets are safe when traveling in a car together. 

Having anything loose and mobile in the car can be a dangerous distraction, and pets are no exception. The best course of action is to make sure you safely restrain your pet in the way that is best for them. This will cut down on distractions while you’re driving and eliminate the dangers of having your pet loose in the car.

Brian Wallace
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Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney
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