Skip to Content

Traveling with Pets in Cars: How to Stay Safe

by  on  Car Accidents & Motor Vehicle Collisions

Whether it is a dog, a cat, or the new goldfish, pets are often treated as family members.

That means they often come along when the whole family hits the road. Sometimes that is because the family simply wants to pet along for the trip. In other situations, the dog gets packed up with everything else because he cannot be safely left at home.

Roughly 70% of U.S. households have at least one pet, according to data from the American Pet Products Association. That is up from 56% of households just 14 years ago. 

Meanwhile, more than half of drivers hit the road with at least one pet in the car every month, according to a survey by the American Automobile Association and dog travel retailer Kurgo.

Regardless of the reason, pets often add to the enjoyment of a family vacation or other trip. They can also pose significant safety risks, both for the pet and for everyone else in the car. 

Fortunately, there are some basic steps that you can take to help ensure that everyone arrives safe and sound.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is among the most common causes of car accidents in Colorado and across the country. 

Driver distraction is to blame for the deaths of at least 3,000 people in accidents every year, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. That is about 8% of all traffic deaths nationwide. 

Yet, distracted driving remains all too common.

About half of drivers admitted to performing at least one device-based task on most or all drives over the past month in a survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Those drivers acknowledged the safety risks but underestimated the extent of the threat, IIHS researchers found.

Tinkering with smartphones by making calls, sending texts or surfing the web is the most common form of distraction behind the wheel. Distracted driving also can come in many other forms, from eating or drinking, fumbling with GPS or radio controls or simply taking eyes off the road to talk with passengers.

The joy of owning a pet for many families is precisely that the pet offers a form of distraction from everyday life. But the same qualities that make Jimmy the family schnauzer such an integral part of your family can also make him a safety hazard in the car.

About 30% of drivers admitted to being distracted by their dogs while operating their cars in the AAA/Kurgo survey. A whopping 65% copped to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dogs. Those activities include petting (52%), trying to restrain the dog with a hand or arm while using brakes (23%), using a hand or arm to try to prevent the dog from changing seats (19%), reaching into the backseat to interact with the dog (18%) and allowing the dog to sit in the driver’s lap (17%).

This is a recipe for disaster. Taking your eyes and focus off of the road – even for a brief moment – increases the risk of an accident. Car crashes happen every day, often resulting in serious, life-changing and even fatal injuries.

Using Pet Restraints

Pet restraints can go a long way in keeping both animals and humans safe on the road. They are safe, comfortable and widely available.

Think of them like seatbelts. Just like these common safety devices keep people out of harm’s way when collisions happen, so too can restraints help minimize injuries to pets.

An unrestrained animal can move around freely in a vehicle climbing over the driver and/or passengers, jumping up and down and causing a general commotion in the car. That is a distraction for everyone, including the driver. Having the pet comfortably restrained cuts down on the risk.

Restraints also keep pets safe in the event of a sudden stop or swerve or when an accident actually happens. An unrestrained pet will not be protected from whiplash or injury, and it may get tossed around the vehicle.

Only about 16% of drivers in the AAA/Kurgo survey said they use some form of restraint while their dogs are in their cars. Many who do not use restraints said that their pets were calm and behaved during the ride. The problem, however, is that even sleeping dogs pose a possible distraction threat and those who are unrestrained are more likely to be injured if a crash happens.

There are a wide range of options for pet restraints, which vary based on the type and size of the animal. Bags, harnesses and even booster seats are increasingly common.

Pet Safety

There are several other steps that you can take to ensure the comfort and safety of your pets.

First: do not leave pets unattended in parked cars, even if it is only for a few minutes. The temperature inside a parked vehicle can rise dramatically in a matter of minutes. That is true even if you crack the windows.

Like humans, some domesticated animals do not do so well in cars. To reduce the risk of car sickness, feed dogs and cats before they get in the car or wait until you’ve arrived at a destination to do so. Breaking up the trip by stopping at a park or other place where the pet can stretch its legs safely may also help.

Finally, resist the urge to let your pet stick its head outside the widow of a moving vehicle. This is a risky move: the animal could hit its head on various objects or be stuck by debris. Instead, make sure the pet has plenty of cool water and that the inside of the car remains temperate. 

Speak With a Denver Personal Injury Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Colorado, an experienced Denver personal injury lawyer at Levine Law can help. Our attorneys combine decades of experience and a strong track record of success in the courtroom and through negotiated settlements.

Our lawyers are pleased to serve clients throughout Colorado, including in Denver, Colorado Springs, Ft. Collins and Loveland. Call us at 303-333-8000 or contact us online to speak with a Denver personal injury lawyer.