Driving with pets
Your pet is part of the family, so it’s likely you’ll want to take them with you when you go on holiday. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your pet safe in the car.
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What’s the law on driving with your pet in the car?
Rule 57 of The Highway Code 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.”
Careless driving can carry an unlimited fine. You could also face being disqualified, and your points could increase to nine.
If you drive carelessly and you have an unrestrained pet with you, you could face a fixed penalty of starting from £100 and three points on your licence.
So before you hit the road with your pet, it’s essential to look into pet restraints.
What are pet restraints?
A pet restraint is either a harness, carrier, 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.
A harness is a special seat belt for pets. Cats and dogs usually. Whereas a crate is for dogs that are crate-trained.
If you opt for a crate, you need to bear in mind they’re large, and you’ll need a large boot to accommodate one. Harnesses are generally considered the safer option.
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. You may find your pet is more distressed while harnessed. In this situation, it could be worth trying other options like a crate.
If there’s more than one person in the car, one of you could sit next to help them feel comfortable.
Can I drive with my pet in the front seat?
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.
Could driving with a pet invalidate my 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 you what your dog is worth.
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.
Tips for travelling with your pet
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 and tweezers, just in case.
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.
This is particularly important for dogs.
If your dog isn’t used to travelling long distances in the car, you’ll 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
You can also 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
You can also buy cool pads for your pet to sit on, and collars that are cooled
And 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
Panting a lot
And, you guessed it, throwing up.
If you know your dog suffers from travel sickness, talk to your vet ahead of the trip as they may be able to help.
As we mentioned above, try not to let your dog hang their heads of 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 will need to stretch their legs and have a break from the driving motion.
Travel tips for nervous dogs
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’ll struggle to do this with a cat though, as generally speaking they’re rarely happy when travelling in a car.