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Two in 5 (40%) dog owners admit to leaving their dog in a hot car

Beloved pets have been left for almost 13 minutes, on average, where temperatures could become fatal

Published on 4th September 2023
  • On a summer’s day with an average temperature of 22°C, the inside of a car could reach 47°C within 1 hour(1). So even if pets are left for as little as 10 minutes, temperatures could be dangerous. 
  • ‘Quick’ tasks, such as putting in fuel or paying for parking were some of the top reasons why dogs have been left in cars. But 1 in 10 (10%) dog owners admit they’ve left their furry friends when they couldn’t take them to places they were heading.
  • Almost half (46%) of drivers have seen a dog left alone in a car on a hot day, with the average temperature reaching 21°C. But less than a quarter (24%) actually intervened. 
  • Leaving pets in hot cars can be fatal and owners could face unlimited fines and prosecution(2). Louise Thomas, motor expert at Confused.com car insurance explains why dog owners need to be responsible and not make costly mistakes. 

Shocking new research reveals how 2 in 5 (40%) dog-owning motorists admit to leaving their furry friends alone in their car during a hot day. 

That’s according to new research by Confused.com. The study found that drivers who currently own a dog have left their pet alone in a hot car for 13 minutes, on average. This may only seem like a brief period of time, but research suggests that this could still pose a serious risk to dogs. 

On an average summer’s day (around 22°C), the RSPCA warns that the inside of a car can reach 47°C within 1 hour(1). This can be fatal for dogs and other pets as they are at risk of heat stroke. And with drivers leaving their dogs alone for around 13 minutes, temperatures could still reach the high 20s, or more, during that time. This is because cars can become sun traps and temperatures can increase quicker than they do outdoors, leaving pets dehydrated, panting and panicked quickly. 

But it’s clear from the research that some owners aren’t fully aware of the risks and could unknowingly be putting their dogs in danger. Most reasons for leaving dogs in hot cars were for ‘quick’ tasks, such as:
- Putting in fuel (37%)
- Parking (27%)
- It was a ‘short period of time’ (19%)

And 1 in 8 (12%) dog owners would leave their dog in a hot car if they couldn’t take them where they were going. Some owners said they did take precautions, like leaving windows open (17%) or checking the temperature before they left (9%). But the research also found that almost half (47%) of owners haven’t checked the temperature of the car before leaving their dogs unattended in the past.

Despite these risks to their beloved pooches, some drivers will still chance it. And while others know it's wrong, not everyone is called out for their behaviour. That’s as almost half (46%) of driver’s surveyed said they’ve previously seen a dog left alone in a car on a hot day. And on average, they said temperatures were around 21°C. Despite this, less than a quarter (24%) of people actually intervened. Those who did intervene said they looked for the dog's owner (24%) or stayed with the dog until the owner came back (15%). But only a small number of people called the police (9%) or the RSPCA (9%). 

Those who chose not to intervene said it was because they didn’t think the dog was at risk (20%). And some just didn’t want to get into conflict with the dog’s owner (15%). A further 1 in 7 (15%) said they didn’t think it was their place to intervene. But stepping in could stop a dog from suffering in the hot weather. And by doing this, it could help spread awareness to others about how an owner’s choice could be life-changing.

It’s not illegal to leave your dog in your car on its own. But drivers can face prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if their pet is neglected or put into distress. In this instance drivers could face an unlimited fine, a prison sentence and be banned from keeping animals in future(2)

With millions of pet owners in the UK, there are car manufacturers who are helping to reduce the problem. For example, Tesla has developed technology that allows owners to keep dogs safe when left alone inside the vehicle. This feature means owners can set their car to stay at a certain temperature, which can be useful in hot weather. And using a digital dashboard display, it tells passers-by that pets have been left in a safe environment. The dashboard even clearly shows the current temperature of the car. This option can be beneficial for owners, but Tesla does also state that pet safety should be considered before using this feature. Tesla says that the ‘Dog’ feature; “...should only be used for short periods of time while [drivers] stay in close proximity should [they] need to return to the vehicle in situations where the temperature can no longer be maintained(3).” And although this is a beneficial feature for Tesla drivers, cars with smart features can come with a hefty price tag. Currently, the cheapest Tesla model available for brand new vehicles will set drivers back more than £38,000(4)

So while some manufacturers are doing their bit to help, this luxury isn’t accessible for the majority of pet owners. That’s why owners should consider the risk element before leaving their dog or any other pet unattended in their vehicle. 

On a hot day, dogs or any other pet shouldn’t be left alone in a car. And if you see it, you should report it. In fact, Confused.com’s research reveals how drivers will think more carefully in future when it comes to intervening. That’s as some drivers admitted that they’d reconsider how they handled a similar situation in future. Around 1 in 3 said they would:
- Call the police (36%)
- Call the RSPCA (34%)
- Look for the dog’s owners (32%)

It’s positive that many drivers are willing to help in these situations. Although there’s some confusion around what to do, as almost a third (31%) of drivers are unsure whether to call the police or the RSPCA. And more than a quarter (27%) say they’re confused if it’s illegal to smash a window to save a dog from the heat. 

According to the RSPCA(1), passers by should assess the situation and call 999 if they think it’s an emergency. If needed, the police will then work with the RSPCA for their assistance. Although it could feel like the right thing to smash open a window, this could be classed as criminal damage. So the best thing to do is wait for the police to arrive, or follow their guidance. 

Louise Thomas, motor expert at Confused.com car insurance comments: 

“Travelling with our dogs is always a joy, but it comes with serious risks. On a hot day, temperatures can more than double in just 1 hour, which can be extremely dangerous for dogs if they’re left alone for too long. With cars attracting heat, even a short period of time can become incredibly uncomfortable for them and put them at risk of falling ill.  So if you’re planning on heading out with your pup at some point this summer, it’s best to plan ahead. This will help to avoid the need to leave them for any period of time. You could also consider taking someone with you to keep an eye on them.

“Coming across a dog left alone in a car on a hot day can also be distressing for passers-by. And it’s easy to feel helpless or to want to avoid conflict with the owner. But choosing to act could save a dog’s life. If you do see a dog that you think is in distress, you should call 999 and speak to the police as a first priority. Avoid breaking the vehicle’s windows or doors as this could be classed as criminal damage. But the police will be able to guide you on what to do, if appropriate. 

“For owners who do decide to leave their dogs unattended, you should be wary of the risks. If your dog falls seriously ill as a result of being left alone in a hot car, you could face an unlimited fine and face prosecution for animal cruelty. As pet owners, this is something that is unimaginable. So while it may not seem risky, it’s always worth taking precautions or travelling with someone else to be on the safe side.”

- ENDS -

Unless otherwise stated, all research figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of Confused.com. This was an online poll of 2,000 UK drivers. The research was conducted between 25 and 31 May 2023. Approximately 40% of drivers in the survey are current dog owners. 

1. https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/health/dogsinhotcars
2. https://www.gov.uk/caring-for-pets 
3. https://www.tesla.com/ownersmanual/modely/en_us/GUID-4F3599A1-20D9-4A49-B4A0-5261F957C096.html 
4. https://www.tesla.com/en_GB/inventory/new/ms 


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