a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Why Dogs Should Not Be Loose in Your Vehicle

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Dogs Should Not Be Loose in Your Vehicle

SUMMARY: Save their lives, and maybe yours, too.

If your dogs travel loose in your car when you drive, please read this whole post. Please.

My dogs used to travel loose in my car. They never traveled a lot; occasional jaunts to someone's house or maybe to a nearby park. As I did more and more agility, however, covering thousands of miles a year, I started to wonder: Children up to 60 pounds are required by law to use special restraints in the car (not loose like we were as kids) for their own safety, and adults are required by law to wear seat belts; what was I thinking by endangering my dogs' lives--and mine--when there were such easy fixes?

In case you haven't already thought about it--and please tell me that you have--here are the bare facts of why dogs should be restrained in cars, as taken from BarkBuckleUp.com:

"In an accident, an unrestrained animal is dangerous to the human passengers as well. Even in an accident of only 30 mph, ... 60-pound dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, a windshield, or another passenger. Even if the animal survives, it can impede the progress of rescue workers for whom every moment is precious.

"Unrestrained pets can also distract the driver, and cause an accident. Even pets that are normally well behaved could be frightened by something unusual and dive for the driver's feet or lap. Following a car accident, an unrestrained pet could escape and be hit by another vehicle or cause another collision. A frightened dog may attack strangers who are trying to help."

Another, recent article provides a summary on traveling with dogs:
"Paws on Board" by Teresa Odle
. Basically, dogs should be:

* In well-designed harnesses attached to seatbelts or other secure restraints in the vehicle, or
* In crates that are secured to the car (my dogs now ride in crates that are strapped either to D-rings in the car floor or to seat belts).

The article also mentions a new California bill passed by the assembly that "outlaws pets sitting in a driver's lap while driving."

But after the basic facts--well, you can dismiss it and say that you drive safely and you'd never do anything dangerous with your dogs in the car. Instead, let me give you several stories.

Someone Else's Mistake #1

My fears were consolidated when another student at Power Paws died when her car rolled over (she wasn't driving) on the way home from an agility trial. Her husband brought the dogs' crates to show us why having dogs in crates is a good thing: His wife was dead, the crates were mangled, but the dogs were unharmed. Unharmed. Looking at those bent and crushed crates, my heart nearly crumbled imagining what could have happened to the dogs if they had been loose, and at what I was letting my dogs in for without any restraint.

She wasn't the only one to suffer a similar fate. This is about the time that I picked up this "Don't Drive Drowsy" sticker from the "Live to run again" foundation. It's on my driver's-side window, and I try to look at that sticker every time I get into my car.

Also at that time, for my dogs, I started with harnesses that I bought at the SPCA, but changed to sturdier, safer ones after reading my friend Holly's research on dog harnesses (an excellent article if you're thinking about dog "seat belts").

Someone Else's Mistake #2

From my former housemate, now living in L.A. (with her little black dog Casey, whom I wrote about when he lived here), July 22, 2008:

I'll give you the gory details later, if you want them, but I was in a serious car accident Friday night.

For once in my life Casey was not with me. Seriously, Ellen, it is a miracle that I am alive and not even any broken bones. Had Casey been in the car there is no f... way he would have survived.

Please tell me what you know about seat belts for pets. The best kind, what to look for, where to find them, etc. I am buying one immediately.

(The gory details)
We were rear-ended. HARD. So hard it pushed us into the back of an 18-wheeler. The ambulance arrived pretty quickly. By that time some good samaritans saw that we were in a car filling with smoke and unable to get out. Somehow they managed to get the doors open and drag us to safety. We were taken to a local hospital in the ambulance. I had a nasty cut on my right leg. (A good two inches of my shin bone was exposed - it was sickening.) They were afraid that [my friend] Robot had internal bleeding because of the way the seat belt sliced him across his torso, but after tests he was sent home. I was x-rayed and somehow that ER doctor managed to take the mangled mess of meat that was my leg and stitch it back together. Just 32 sutures in an almost perfect "V" on my right shin.

Robot is bruised and sore, but left to go back to Texas this morning. Robot & I both feel incredibly lucky to be alive, much less to be in one piece! My entire body hurts, but nothing is broken. If Casey had been in the car, which he is about 95% of the time, he would not have survived. No way, no how. I am currently shopping for pet seat belts.

I'm sure airbags saved our lives.
I am very happy with my Hyundai. (Well, what used to be my Hyundai)
Always wear a seatbelt.
Make sure your insurance payments are up to date.
Secure your pets in the car if they ride with you.
Live each day as if it is your last, because it damn well could be.

Someone Else's Mistake #3

From my occasional agility-traveling friend (Scully and Sparkle's mom), about her sister, who also does agility, August 15, 2008:

Pam's car was totaled yesterday and she was very, very lucky. She was driving home from work and some guy came up from behind way too fast. He tried to swerve around her, cut in too soon and hit her rear quarter panel. Pam ended up shooting across two lanes of traffic and up an embankment. The car rolled at least twice on the way back down and landed driver's door down. Pam climbed out the passenger door and passers by got the dogs' crates out and moved them to a safe distance. Pam's business partner came and took Pam and the dogs back to the vet hospital while our brother came and dealt with the tow truck people. [About the dogs:] Haiden is fine and Raina has a chipped bone on her hock. She sees a surgeon today but the hope is she can get by with just a splint. She did not reinjure her spine which is excellent news. Pam is sore but seems to have no serious injuries.

Taj MuttHall adds: What if the dogs hadn't been in crates?

Someone Else's Mistake #4

Added: Aug 22, 5:10 p.m. From Scully and Sparkle's mom again:
Years ago Mom was driving her van with a dog crated in the back. Traffic on the freeway came to a dead stop but the driver behind her didn't notice and plowed into her at 60mph. Mom's van was shoved forward into the car ahead of her, the back doors popped open and the crate landed on the freeway. The van was totaled but the dog was fine.

Last Story

I don't remember the details. (Maybe someone out there knows? This is how I remember it.) Two people traveling from an agility trial in southern California rolled the vehicle in the wild mountains across the Grapevine. Their unrestrained dogs got loose. They were lucky that none ran out onto the freeway, but one vanished and was never found.

Please don't leave your dogs loose in the vehicle.

Update: Aug 26, 2008, 3 p.m.: Also visit Johann the Dog's Car Safety For Dogs! page.


  1. Thank you for this reminder. I have been bad lately, especially with Bodhi because he is just so good in the car, but you are so right to remind us all that it's not a good way to travel. With my van, they are in the back, but I've been wondering if I should take out the middle seats and raise the 3rd row seat out of the floor and put them between the 2 rows of seats. If I ever got seriously rear-ended, they would be toast in the back as they are now. What to do??

  2. Another thing to consider - the crates should be lashed down too. (I've been guilty of not doing this recently) And not with bungies - in a crash, those'll immediately snap. Use the straps with ratchets.

  3. Debbie Andrews can probably contribute another story. She was in a bad wreck. She is in a wheelchair for 3 months recovering. Her crated dog survived. The uncrated dog in the other vehicle did not.

    And what Dave said. Use racheting tie downs to secure the crates.

  4. I don't think that there is a perfect answer about what to do. Anything you can think of could result in more harm than good in some situations. My dogs are in the far back of my van, and I also sometimes think about what would happen in a bad rear-end accident. But I do believe that dogs restrained in any way are far safer than those not restrained, so anything is progress.

    I tried searching on the web for any statistics about dogs dying in car wrecks. I wasn't able to find anything. There must be something somewhere.

  5. Excellent post. My dogs ride in seatbelt harnesses as crates would never fit in our tiny car. When they first got their harnesses they'd swap places in the back constantly, getting all tangled. Soon enough they learned to stick to their own half of the car.

    That's a great idea for a sticker, "Don't Drive Drowsy". My car sports a "Drivesafe" bumper sticker (from The War Amps) and a window sticker that says "Switch to a nicer gear - Share the road". < rant >Aggressive driving is a huuuuge pet peeve of mine, as are all the stoopid car commercials that try to brainwash people into thinking that pushing your foot down hard on a metal pedal is the coolest thing ever and the best way to get a rush. Like that car advertisement billboard that said "Adrenaline. Discovered in 1886. Rediscovered in 2004." (or whatever year the car was made in) Honestly, who in the world buys into that kind of crap? You wanna risk killing yourself, fine, but don't put other road users at risk at the same time.< /rant >

    Thanks for posting that link to the harness research - very interesting.

  6. Great post and just too important! Thanks for spreading the word.

    After our car accident in 2007, and we all walked away with only bruises (and stress for Gracie), I've been pushing car safety for dogs, big time.

    Would you allow me to post some of this info, (excerpted, quoted and linked back of course), on my Squidoo Lens on Dog Car Safety? Here's the address if you want to check it out first.


  7. Sure. I also updated my post to add a link to your page.