You cannot help but smile when you see a happy dog hanging his head out of a car window. It’s because of this happiness and sense of freedom that makes it hard to convince their owners that their pet will be equally as happy tethered or sitting in a crate. It is even harder trying to convince the pet. But with more pets traveling by auto, law enforcement agencies and animal advocates are campaigning hard against distracted driving while pushing equally as hard for seat-belt harnesses, car seats and other restraints for dogs which still offer some freedom of movement and a window view. In 2009, about 89% of pets were unrestrained while traveling in the car which is an improvement from 2008 when 98% were unsecured. As it stands now, there are no federal or state laws requiring securing your pet while traveling in the car. In case of an accident or hitting the brakes at 50 miles an hour, an unsecured dog becomes a projectile in the car. This is a safety hazard to the dog and to the passengers in the car. According to the American Pet Products Association, nearly 25% of dog owners take them in the car when traveling compared to 16% ten years ago. Since more pet owners take their companions on the road with them, the sale of dog-travel pet products are on the rise as well. Sales of car harnesses which straps around a dog’s body and attaches to a seat belt are most preferred with sales doubling annually since 2007. Booster seats which hook around the car headrest and tethers a small dog, keeping it off of the owner’s lap, are also a top seller. It has the additional benefit of keeping the car cleaner. Besides harnesses and booster seats, there are barriers for SUV’s and steel cargo barriers for wagons which keep the dog in the luggage area and away from the driver. If a 60-pound unbelted child is traveling in the back seat of a car going 30 mph, in case of a sudden stop, would become 2,700 pounds of force. A pet that size would become like a baby elephant. Other problems with unsecured pets in cars is in the case of an accident, the dog runs into traffic or acts aggressively toward emergency workers who are aiding victims. Most Pet Insurance auto claims are related to unrestrained animals jumping from a moving vehicle. Some state legislators and law-enforcement officials are fighting for tougher regulations dealing with pets traveling in cars. In Hawaii, drivers cannot hold animals in their lap or have them close enough to interfere with the driver’s ability to control his/her vehicle and California, Virginia, and Oregon have introduced similar measures though none have been made a law. In the case of an accident where airbags are deployed, a driver may sustain minor cuts and bruises but a small dog, sleeping in the front passenger seat can suffer internal injuries and die.
All of these arguments for restraining your pet while traveling are good arguments but what about a pilot study done by the Center for Pet Safety, that states pet safety restraints used in vehicles may be unsafe, therefore negating the theory of preventing your pet from becoming a projectile in case of an accident? The CPS is a nonprofit organization conducting a study to define safe travel for both companion animals and their owners. There are no current specific safety standards concerning animal restraints and manufacture testing is not required. Though researchers agree that tethering or containing ones pet helps reduce distracted drivers, they do not prevent your pet from becoming a projectile in the case of an accident.
In the study, the harness size selected was based on six of the top ten dog breeds which were within the “large” harness category. A crash test dog was designed, weighed and instrumented for data collection. No live animals were used in the study. Twelve restraints from major brands purchased online were used, out of which four were used as a “control group”. This group based it’s decision on product strengths and design and reputed marketplace popularity. In their pilot study, there was a 100% failure rate of the set of four of the most popular animal travel harnesses crash tested.
There is more that needs to be addressed and studied in defining travel safety for your pet; the issue of his becoming a projectile being just one. Funding is needed to support these studies with a large amount coming from donations. Hopefully, through this funding, safely traveling with your pet will be comparable to the safety of traveling with children. Securing your pet while traveling is the responsible thing to do for both you and your pet. Some protection is better than nothing, right? You don’t want to jeopardize your safety and that of your pet in the case of a sudden stop or accident. It is already law in some states and will most likely become law in all states within a few years so you might as well get your pet used to wearing one now.
So, secure your four-legged best friend as well as yourself and, both of you, enjoy the ride.