Do Dogs Need to Wear a Seatbelt?

5 min read
Do Dogs Need to Wear a Seatbelt? - Animals Matter, Inc.

Have you ever pulled up next to a car with a dog sitting in the driver's lap, happily sticking its head out the window? If you're a responsible dog owner, you've likely clucked to yourself, "well, THAT'S not going to end well..." while glancing proudly at your own dog sitting calmly in the back seat. But how much safer is it to have an unrestrained dog back there? Should you go the extra mile and invest in a dog seat belt?

Car harnesses for dogs really do protect them, us, and other motorists from serious injury, even in minor fender benders or when we have to make a sudden stop to avoid a car accident. Restraining dogs with a safety harness keeps them from interfering with safe driving, and in the case of a serious crash, or even a flat tire, pet restraints are the safest way to prevent dogs from getting lost on busy roadways.

Here's what you need to know before the next time you travel with your dog:

How dog seat belts work

Most pet restraint products include a safety harness connected to a "bungee"-like tether that clips into a vehicle's seat belt system. Your dog will have plenty of freedom to sit up, lie down, or even turn around to get comfortable, and in most cases, dogs take to their doggy seat belts without a problem.

Important tip: Never attach the tether to your dog's collar. Safety harnesses distribute the "pull" of the tether throughout the dog's shoulders and eliminate the risk of choking.

Does your dog enjoy looking out the window? You can purchase a booster seat that gives your dog a secure, elevated place to sit. These pet "car seats" like those from Kurgo won't interfere with your dog seat belt harness, and they can help reduce travel anxiety.

Dogs are safest when they ride in the back seat of your vehicle. This prevents them from being injured by deployed front seat airbags in the event of an accident and reduces the dog's ability to crawl into a pet owner's lap.

Studies show pet restraints are essential

Unfortunately, there are no official safety standards for dog seat belts and dog kennels, and not all products are created equal. The Center for Pet Safety, in conjunction with automobile manufacturers, has yet to find more than two brands that pass crash-test studies. But based on research on pets as distractions in moving vehicles, it's worthwhile to figure out a system that works for you. Here's why:

According to a study by the European insurance giant Allianz, when a vehicle crashes while going 25mph, "an airborne dog can develop projection forces equaling 40 times its weight."

Diana Gugliotta, senior manager of Public Affairs at AAA Northeast, takes on the subject of force from another angle: "A 30-pound dog traveling at 60 miles per hour requires 1,800 pounds of restraining force, making it impossible to hold onto a pet to restrain them in your arms." In short, whether a dog is a toy or giant breed, unsecured pets are a danger to themselves and other car occupants, and simply holding onto them isn't enough.

But are people catching on to the benefits of pet travel safety products? The facts are disturbing. According to a survey conducted by AAA and Kurgo, only 17 percent of dog owners use some form of pet restraint while their dog is in their vehicle. Almost all of these respondents will use restraints during longer day trips, but they're least likely to keep their dog properly restrained on shorter trips, like while driving to the dog park. And most of us have heard that most driving accidents happen within a mile of home.

It's important to note that the above survey was conducted in 2010, so we can only hope that education has increased awareness of the importance of dog restraints, and prompted more pet owners to use high-quality kennels and dog seat belt systems.

Pet restraints keep you compliant with car safety laws

If you're pulled over with a loose dog in your car or the back of your pick-up truck, you might get cited by a police officer for breaking safety and distracted driving laws. In some states, specific laws dictate that your dog needs a car seat belt or kennel to legally ride in a car.

Here's a sampling of states with laws addressing unrestrained pets:

  • Connecticut: It's illegal to drive with a dog in your lap or loose in the back of a pick-up truck.
  • Hawaii: Not only can't your dog ride in your lap, Hawaii has an ambiguous law that prohibits an unrestrained dog from being anywhere in the driver's vicinity.
  • Maine: Dogs must be restrained in a kennel or with a seat belt system, and cannot ride in the driver's lap.
  • Massachusetts and New Hampshire: Dogs riding in the back of trucks must be restrained by a short tether or a kennel (and truck bed sides and tailgates must be of a specific height) and loose dogs inside a moving vehicle must not be a distraction to the driver.
  • New Jersey: Drivers with unrestrained dogs may face animal cruelty violations with hefty fines.
  • Rhode Island: Dogs must be secured in a kennel, with a dog safety seatbelt system, or under the direct control of a passenger.

The trend to enact dog seat belt laws is spreading to other states, and many cities have their own ordinances preventing loose dogs in vehicles, but do you need legislation to help you decide to travel safely with your pet?

Buckle up your pet for your next road trip

We wear seat belts. Perhaps it's time we get into the habit of securing our pups, too, for our dogs' safety as well as our own. Research the brand that you feel will work best for your dog and take into consideration fit, comfort, and durability. Any good hammock, dog booster seat, or travel kennel will give you peace of mind, and keep you and your pet safe the next time you're on the open road!

Do you have questions about finding the safest products for your pet? Get in touch with us at Animals Matter!


1. What is the safest way to transport a dog in a car?

The safest way to travel with your pet is to keep it secured in an appropriate hard-sided kennel that is tied down within the vehicle, or secured with a harness tethered to a seatbelt in the back seat. Dog car seats, when used with harness restraints, may add an extra layer of protection.

2. What are the benefits of seatbelts for dogs?

Seatbelts keep dogs from moving around inside the car, which can distract the driver, interfere with navigation and the act of driving, and even cause escapes. Seatbelts also protect dogs from injury in accidents and sudden braking incidents.

3. Are you legally required to have a seat belt on your dog?

Some states require seat belt restraints or kennels for dogs traveling in vehicles, and special cross-tie restraints for dogs traveling in open pick-up truck beds. Check with your own state laws, and your city's ordinances, to make sure you're following the law.

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