The Dangers of Driving with a Dog in Your Lap

People love traveling with their dogs, and many dogs love riding along in cars, especially with the windows down. However, you should know that driving with a dog in your lap can be seriously dangerous for you, your pet, your passengers, and others on the road. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring your canine companion for a drive, but it does mean you can check out safer alternatives.

Avoiding Risks – Get a Safety Harness

According to a 2010 survey, about 80% of all pet owners have driven in the car with their dogs. However, less than 20% use any type of restraint system. That means those dogs could easily be putting everyone at risk who’s sharing the road with those drivers.

Distractions are a big cause of accidents. Because you are traveling at a high rate of speed and powering a vehicle that weighs several tons, you can’t afford to take your eyes or your attention off the road even for a moment. Yet, having a dog in your lap or even running around in the backseat can provide exactly the type of distraction that can cause a serious, even a fatal, accident.

Even if you can keep your eyes on the road, your unrestrained dog’s antics might distract other drivers around you. Would you want to be responsible for causing that type of situation?

In the event of an accident, your dog can also face serious injury if they have not been properly restrained. A dog on your lap can be thrown into or through the windshield, can be crushed by an inflating air bag, or can have their body broken by being pinned between your body and the steering wheel. Any unrestrained dog can receive severe injuries if the vehicle flips over, too. Plus, the force of an unrestrained dog hitting the back of your seat or your body thanks to the impact of another vehicle can cause you and your passengers greater injury as well.

Thankfully, all of these risks can be greatly minimized simply by restraining your dog during any car trips. Let’s take a look at some of the available options.

Safety Seats

For small dogs (the ones most likely to travel on your lap) you can invest in safety seats. The seats work in similar ways to car seats for children. The seats are made of various materials and fit into either your front passenger seat or one of the backseats. You use your seat belt system to keep the seat in place. Most of the seats include a separate restraint to keep the dog in the seat during travel so you don’t have to worry about him being injured by your seat belts.

The nice thing about these types of seats is that your dog can safely ride almost anywhere in the car. Plus, the seats give tiny dogs a better view and better access to the wind coming in through your open window.

You can find these safety seats through most pet stores. Prices vary greatly. The Pet Gear Booster Seat starts off at $85 while the American Tourister model costs only $40 but does not come with the harness, for example. Just remember to find a seat that will hold your dog. All of the seats have weight limits, usually no higher than 15 pounds.

Harnesses & Seat Belts

A more affordable way to keep your dog restrained during travel is the seat belt or harness. Most of these can be purchased for less than $25 and will work for a wider range of dog sizes.

Usually, you will purchase the harness for your dog and that will attach to your existing seat belts to keep your dog in one seat of the vehicle. Some of the harnesses require you to purchase additional accessories, such as belts to connect them to your car’s seat belt system. The idea of these items is that they adapt your existing restraint system to work for your pet as well.

The Kurgo Trufit Smart Harness is one example. They cost between $23 and $30 depending on the size of your dog and can double as walking harnesses. The harnesses are available in extra small, small, medium, and large but the biggest size may not fit bigger breeds, such as mastiffs. However, most other breeds would be protected by one of these products.

Safety Barriers

If you have very large dogs or if you typically don’t travel with backseat passengers other than your dog, you might consider safety barriers as a way to restrain your dog in one area of the vehicle. These devices can be made from wire, metal, mesh, or strong fabric. They fit into your car behind either the front seat or behind one of your back seats (if you have a van or SUV). They prevent the dog from being able to jump or climb out of his designated part of the vehicle.

Prices range from around $40 to $100, but they are generally easy to install. They are nice for larger dogs and for dogs that get anxious during car rides since they won’t be so tightly restrained. However, they won’t do much to protect your dog from injury in the event of an accident so you may want to weigh that risk in your decision.

The Midwest Tubular Pet Vehicle Barrier, for example, costs $40 and fits into most SUVs and vans without installation. You simply adjust the horizontal and vertical bars so they fit into your car and stay in place through pressure.

Regardless of the method you use, keeping your dog restrained in the car is an important way to reduce driving distractions and, in some cases, to keep your dog safe in the event of an accident. Just be sure to purchase a product that correctly fits your dog’s size and that you understand how to use in your vehicle.

Even if you choose to take the risk and leave your dog unrestrained in the vehicle, remember that driving with a dog in your lap is never a good option. The risks to your dog, your passengers, and other drivers are too great.



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