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Pets in cars: Laws and what to do

If you have a dog, you might travel with them regularly, to the local park for example. But there are laws to make sure you and your dog remain safe in the car. These laws don’t just apply to dogs either. Here are some tips on keeping your pet safe in the car and how it could affect your car insurance

A dog sits in the back of a car

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Travelling with pets in cars: what's the law?

The rule on driving with pets in your car is that they need to be strapped in or restrained properly. They can’t be allowed to have free roam of your car for obvious reasons. 

Rule 57 of The Highway Code states:

“When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they can’t distract you while you’re 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.”

Careless driving could carry an unlimited fine. You could also face being disqualified, and you could get nine points on your licence.

If you drive carelessly and you have an unrestrained pet with you, you could face a fixed penalty of starting from £100. You could also be hit with between three and nine points on your licence. 

So before you hit the road with your pet, it’s essential to look into pet restraints.


What is the law on dogs in cars in the UK?

Dogs must be restrained properly when being transported in cars or left in a stationary car. This means it’s not safe to keep dogs in the boot of a car for example, unless they’re properly tethered. 

Along with the law on transporting dogs in cars, owners also need to be aware of the rules around leaving a dog in a car.

This depends a lot on the reasons for doing so. There’s a big difference between popping into a shop briefly or leaving a dog for hours on their own.

It’s especially important in hot weather. There isn’t a specific law around leaving a dog in a hot car but owners are legally responsible for the welfare of their animals. If a dog is ill or dies because of this, the owner might be prosecuted. 


What are pet restraints for cars?

A pet restraint is either a harness, crate, or cage. All of these are classed as ‘restraints’ and help to keep your pets safe while travelling in the car.

They help make sure your pets don’t get thrown around the car if you have an accident, and that they don’t get under your feet as a driver.


1. Harness

A harness is a special seat belt, usually for cats and dogs. 

The harness goes around the pet's chest and neck - just make sure it’s not too tight. You should be able to comfortably get two fingers between the harness and your pet. Small dogs might need a doggy booster seat too.

Harnesses are generally considered the safer option between crates and harnesses.

If your pet is nervous in the harness and there’s more than one person in the car, one of you could sit next to help them feel more comfortable.


2. Crate

If you opt for a crate, you need to bear in mind that they’re large, and you might need a large boot to accommodate one.

If you find your pet is more distressed while harnessed  it could be worth trying a crate.

You might have to try some crate training with your pet if you're opting for this. 

Browse pet restraints for your car on Amazon

Can dogs and pets sit in the front seat in the UK?

It’s best for pets to travel in the back seat or in the boot as they’re less likely to be seriously injured if you have an accident.

If you have no other option, you can keep them in the front seat as long as they’re properly restrained.

If your pet is travelling in the front seat, put on their harness and push the seat back as far as you can.

You should also disable the airbag on the passenger side, as this could seriously injure your pet if it activates. Make sure you turn it back on for human passengers.


What should I do when travelling with a dog or pet in the car?


Plan ahead

Think about your pet and their individual needs. You should make sure you have plenty of water on board, perhaps a toy too. 

It’s also worth carrying a pet first aid kit containing:

  • Bandages
  • Scissors 
  • Tweezers

With dogs, try not to feed them while you’re travelling as it could make them car sick. Aim for their last feed to be three hours before you set off.

If you're travelling abroad with your pet, make sure you have the proper paperwork and vaccinations before you go. 


Stop regularly

This is particularly important for dogs.

If your dog isn’t used to travelling long distances in the car, you might need to stop a little more often so they can get used to it.

Plan ahead and schedule regular stops so your dog can run around. Give them a drink and an opportunity to go to the toilet. You can try to pick spots where there are woods or a field to run about in.

If you’re travelling with a cat and the journey is longer than six hours, you should stop and let them use a litter box. Always have water on standby for them too.


Keep your pet cool

There are a few ways you can help your pet stay cool on a long drive in the sun:

  • Keep the air conditioning on in the car.
  • Pop a sun shade on the window to block some of the sun coming in.
  • Crack the window a little for some breeze. But not so much that your dog can put their head out of the window, as that’s quite dangerous.
  • Let your dog drink lots of cool water on your scheduled stops.
  • Get cool pads for your pet to sit on, and collars that are cooled..

Whatever you do, don’t leave your pet unattended in the car. Even if you crack the window, temperatures can quickly climb to unsafe levels. 


Keep an eye on your pet

One of the biggest safety tips to bear in mind is to keep an eye on them.

If your dog is in a harness, keep checking them to ensure they don’t choke. And keep an eye on the signs of travel sickness. These are:

  • Your dog’s finding it hard to settle
  • Excessive drooling
  • Panting a lot
  • Yawning
  • Throwing up

If you know your dog suffers from travel sickness, talk to your vet ahead of the trip as they might be able to help.

As we mentioned above, try not to let your dog hang their heads out the windows. They’re likely to get dry eyes and could hurt their head on a passing vehicle or debris.

And finally, don’t forget to stop regularly. Some pets need to stretch their legs and have a break from the driving motion. 


Does driving with a pet in my car affect car insurance?

If you have an accident as a result of driving with an unrestrained pet in the car your insurance might not cover you.

As we mentioned, this could be classed as careless driving. So it’s likely your insurer won’t pay out for this.

Also, if you end up with a driving conviction due to careless driving, you could face higher insurance premiums in the future.


Does my car insurance cover my pet? 

If you have fully comprehensive car insurance, there could be some cover for your pet. This type of policy usually covers personal possessions, so this could include your pet.

If your pet dies as a result of a car accident, your insurer might pay out the cost of getting a new pet of the same breed.

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If they’re injured, your insurer might not pay out. This is where your pet insurance could come into play.

To help cover the cost of injury, it’s worth considering a pet insurance policy for your companion. 


Travel tips for nervous dogs and pets

If your dog is nervous being in the car, they may well need to be car-trained. You could start with taking them on a short journey in the car.  

Take them somewhere nice like the beach to make the journey positive. 

Reassure your dog. Keep talking to them and pack something like a pillow case or jumper that smells like you. This should make it clear to them that you’re not too far away. Then over the course of a few weeks or months, increase the length of the journey, keeping an eye on their wellbeing.

Eventually they should be able to go on a long journey without too much distress. You might  struggle to do this with a cat though, as generally speaking they’re rarely happy when travelling in a car.


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