16 September 2019

Travelling safely with pets – it’s the law or is it?

We all remember seeing that beautiful dog with its head out of the window and their faces blowing in the wind, we all sigh and laugh and say “ah look at them” But should we? Should we really be terrified that they may jump out of the window, or that we are forced to break hard or swiftly and become involved in a collision, what will happen to our pets then?

What is the law on driving with a dog or pet in the car?

The Highway Code

Rule 58 of the Highway Code deals with travelling with pets and states:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

Potential Offences

Whilst breaching the Highway Code is not necessarily an offence in itself, there are a number of offences that could potentially arise as result of driving with an unrestrained pet. A motorist could be considered to be driving ‘without due care and attention’ if it was felt that their standard of driving fell below that expected of a competent driver or that they did not show “reasonable” consideration for other road users. There is no definitive list of actions that can amount to careless driving however a distracting unrestrained dog jumping about in a vehicle could certainly be considered to sufficient.

More concerning is the potential for an accident and if that were to arise, the more serious offence of dangerous driving could be applicable. The penalty for dangerous driving is far more severe as the offence attracts not only a custodial sentence but also a mandatory disqualification of at least twelve months.

Remember if your pet is not secure and you cause an accident it could affect your insurance.

Potential for Injury

Perhaps more significant to a pet lover than the potential for prosecution is the risk of injury to your pet from travelling unrestrained. Not only can a loose dog easily distract the driver but unrestrained dogs can also block or move the steering wheel, gear stick and foot pedals. A loose dog could be injured or killed by an airbag and when hanging its head out of a car window, debris from the road could injure a pet.

 If a pet is not secured safely then sharp braking or a collision could result in them being catapulted sharply forwards, potentially causing life-threatening internal injuries, as well as trauma to people in the car.

Types of suitable restraints

There are a number of suitable restraints on the market ranging from pet seatbelts to harnesses and crates that can be secured in the boot of a vehicle.

Some advice on travelling with pets:

  1. Also, use an appropriate pet restraint and never drive with an unrestrained pet.
  2. Take regular breaks and always offer your pet drinking water at appropriate times as well as allowing them to exercise when taking a break.
  3. Never ever leave a dog alone in a vehicle. Pets are not able to cool down as effectively as humans so could suffer from heatstroke and dehydration very quickly. Leaving a window open or parking in the shade is simply not sufficient and vehicles can become extremely hot very quickly.
  4. Do not let pets hang their head outside cars. The Dogs Trust and RSPCA advises that owners should not allow their dog to hang their head out of the window while they are moving as this could be potentially dangerous for the dog as well as distracting for the owner.
  5. Let your pet get used to travelling in a car. If your pet is not a regular traveller then build up journeys with short trips before conspiring to embark on a long journey.

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