A dog buckled in for a safe car ride.

Does My Dog Need a Seat Belt?

Whether you’re embarking on a road trip or taking a quick spin around the block, you probably buckle up without thinking twice. If you’re especially cautious, you might even survey fellow passengers to make sure they’re safe and secure — but what about your dog? Do they need to strap in?

“Yes,” says Anderson Moorer, a dog lover and former paramedic, “if you care whether [your] dog is injured or killed should you be in an accident.” Any dog owner can tell you that energy and excitement can sometimes lead to injuries. A moving vehicle is about the riskiest place a dog could let curiosity get the best of them.

Has your dog been riding without a seat belt, harness, or similar restraint? If so, you’re not alone. A 2011 survey co-sponsored by AAA found that just 16% of pet parents restrain their dogs in the car. Fortunately, the intervening years have brought a number of options for pet owners looking to keep their pups safe on the road.

Dog Seat Belts, Harnesses, and Car Seats

An appropriate restraint will ensure your dog remains comfortably and securely in place while your car is in motion. Your choice of restraint will largely depend on the size of your dog. Belts work best for larger dogs, while small and mid-sized breeds are safer in seats and harnesses.

Automobile safety features are rigorously tested to ensure they adhere to a number of regulations. However, that guarantee only extends to features designed for humans. There are not currently any nationwide standards for products intended to keep dogs safe in the car. So far, third-party organizations like The Center for Pet Safety have taken the lead in testing out dog harnesses, seat belts, car seats, and other restraints. The group has determined that only some of the restraints claiming to offer “crash protection” were actually capable of doing so.

Make sure to slowly and carefully introduce your dog to their new restraint. Start with quick, short trips to familiarize them with the experience before committing to treks across the country.

Why Your Dog Needs a Seat Belt

Distracted driving is dangerous driving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 9 Americans die every day after losing focus on the road. At least 1,000 suffer injuries.

An unrestrained dog is a potentially distracted dog. They might bark, make an attempt to escape the car, or block your vision with a sudden movement. Even a second of distraction could prove dangerous or deadly for any people or pets in the car.

Being unrestrained at any point is potentially dangerous, but sudden stops and changes in direction can multiply the potential hazards. Speaking to PetMD, dog safety specialist Melanie Monteiro describes what happens during a collision or abrupt change in motion. “In the event of a crash at 50 mph,” she notes, “a 10-pound, unrestrained dog generates 500 pounds of projectile force.” A bigger dog — even in the event of a slower crash — can shoot toward the windshield with nearly 2,500 pounds of unchecked force.

In short, your dog needs to buckle up for the same reason you do. It’s the easiest way to minimize the risk of death or serious injury while driving.

Dog Seat Belt Laws

Nearly every state requires human occupants to wear seat belts in moving cars. Comparatively few have laws related to dog seat belts on the books. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island mandate that dogs must be restrained (either with crates, harnesses, or seat belts). Other states reserve the right to charge drivers with distracted driving, or even animal cruelty, for failing to secure their pets before hitting the road.

Rules of the Road

If you’re bringing the dog along on a family trip this holiday season (or any time of year), make sure to check out our guidelines for pet-safe driving and traveling.