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Buckle up, Fido

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s a beautiful dog, it’s lapping up the wonderful feeling of the wind through his coat and rolling across his tongue. So what could be wrong?

Well the problem here is that he’s unrestrained – he’s got no seatbelt tether and no protection if there’s an accident.

It’s not illegal in Australia to drive with an unrestrained animal in the car, and in many cases being unrestrained and able to find a comfortable spot can make your dog calmer.

Our tiny old maltese, who didn’t like car rides at all, used to hunker down in the footwell on the front passenger side where she couldn’t see through the window. She was a lot calmer during rides once she found this spot.

But unrestrained animals moving around in the car can be dangerous, both for the humans and the animals themselves. So why should you restrain your dog while they ride in the car with you?

1. Legality

Well the first thing to remember is that across the country a few standard rules apply, no matter which state or jurisdiction you are in. These are

  • A driver must not drive with an animal in the driver’s lap.

  • A motorcyclist must not ride with an animal between the handlebars and the rider.

  • Animals should be seated or housed in an appropriate area of the vehicle.

  • Dogs on utes should be restrained either via a tether or cage, so that the dog cannot fall off or be injured when the vehicle moves.

  • A driver, motorcycle rider, bicycle rider or passenger must not lead an animal, while the vehicle is moving

In addition police are able to issue demerit points and fines if an unrestrained animal causes the driver to not be in full control of the vehicle, and the RSPCA can also issue fines under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act If an animal is injured because it was unrestrained.

Legally, it seems that as long as you keep your dog calm and settled (and not on your lap) and are looking after your dog as best you can while you’re both in the car (while not allowing them to distract you from concentrating on the road) you should be acting within the law.

But there does seem to be some haziness as to what this means. Whether your dog is considered a distraction to you while you are driving is a judgement that will be made by others (i.e. the police) and there seems to be a lot of leeway as to when, where and in what circumstances an officer may decide to issue a fine.

For this reason, it is probably a good idea to err on the side of caution when you have your dog in the car. If they tend to pace or move about while you are driving, a restraint may be a good idea from a legal point of view.

2. Distractions

Driving is a difficult and dangerous task that takes time to learn and even longer to master. It’s not an activity that can be easily engaged in when you are distracted - and an unrestrained pet in the car can be very distracting.

Whether they are nervous riders who move around trying to find a safe and comfortable spot, or happy riders who love to stick their head out the window and catch the wind in their fur, their movements can pull our attention off the road.

This can increase the chances of accidents happening as we distracted when they slip off the back seat or get surprised by an unexpected bark in our ear.

It’s dangerous not just for you as a driver, but also for your unrestrained pet, who will face increased risk of injury because of the lack of restraint in the case of an accident. And this isn’t even mentioning other human passengers you might be carrying, or other road users or pedestrians who might be affected, injured or worse in the event of an accident.

Bearing all this in mind, as much as your pooch might like to roam in the car while you drive, it is generally safer for you and for them if you reduce their opportunities to disturb or distract you on the road.

3. Pet safety

So legally, you’d be safer with your dog restrained while driving, and it certainly cuts down the risks of being distracted by your pooch as they roam about the car, but what about physical safety, both for you and your pet?

First, there’s the risk that an unrestrained dog could jump or fall out of the car.

This happens much more often than you think. The RSPCA statistics show more than 5,000 dogs a year are hurt or killed from falling or jumping out of a moving car, and it can cause some horrific injuries.

Broken legs, pelvises, and spines are all common injuries, as well as significant skin trauma with cuts, abrasions and scrapes causing bloody wounds.

Dogs can get excited, they are bred to chase things, and when you are driving there is so much excitement going on in the world around them. It can get a bit overwhelming and distracting for your pooch, and when they see something they want to chase they may just go for it without thinking.

4. Road Safety

If the worst happens and you are in a road accident while your pet is in the car they, like you, need some protection.

When vehicles are involved in collisions there are some extreme forces involved, enough to throw you and your pet all over the car. Seatbelts and airbags have been specifically designed to keep humans safe in the event of an accident, but they won’t help your pet.

Even worse, an unrestrained dog can be flung from the car or suffer horrific impact injuries if the car comes to a sudden stop.

No-one thinks they are going to have an accident on the road, but if we do and our pets are not properly restrained there is a huge chance they will be injured and the extent of those injuries could be life-threatening.

For the safety of your dog, plan for the worst-case scenario, and make sure they have the best chance of surviving and accident, just as you do for yourself by putting on a seatbelt.

So, should we restrain our dogs and pets while they are in the car?

We think so.

Restraining your pet in the car helps protect you legally, it cuts down on the distractions that can lead to accidents, it helps keep your dog safe from themselves and securely in the car, and in the worst-case scenario it could help your pet survive or reduce the amount of injury they suffer.

All good reasons to look at restraining your dog in the car.

Coming soon, we’ll be having a look at the different types of restraints you can get, and which ones might be best for you and your dog.


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