The rules for driving with a dog may be stricter than you think as the Highway Code stipulates that dogs must be ‘restrained’ in cars.
Pet owners also may not know that letting their dogs in the front seat is actually a gray area.
Indeed, the Highway Code stipulates that dogs must be ‘suitably restrained’ in a car so they can’t distract the driver of causing injuries – either to themselves or the motorist.
If not, motorists could be fined up to £2,500 for driving without care and attention with the fine for ‘careless driving’ going even further at £5,000, Wales Online reports.
The Highway Code goes so far as to recommend seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard to restrain animals in the car.
Car expert Mark Tongue at Select Car Leasing, told The Mirror: “Most dog owners will know they need to keep their pet suitably restrained when they’re in a car, as stipulated by the Highway Code.
“But many owners are left confused as to whether dogs are allowed in the front seat or not. It’s something of a gray area.
“Whilst not particularly recommended – dogs should generally be in the backseat or boot for their own safety.
“You should only ever have your dog by your side while driving if you’re able, and know how, to disable the front passenger airbag, as some vehicles don’t actually have an override function.
“Failure to disable the airbag could result in catastrophic injuries for a dog. An airbag is designed to provide protection for a human, not a canine, and the cushioning is simply in the wrong place.
“When an airbag deploys it does so with so much force it could even crush a dog cage.”
Disabling the front passenger airbag differs according to the vehicle manufacturer and model.
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To turn it off, you’ll typically find the switch either in the glove box or located on the left hand side of the passenger dashboard.
If you can’t find one, shotgun trips for your ball-chasing friend should be banned.
Tongue adds that if you are considering carrying your dog in the front of your car, be sure to move the seat as far back as it will go, minimizing the risk of the dog striking the glovebox or windscreen during a collision.
“We’d recommend you don’t let your dog stick its head out of the window,” he explains.
“Not only does that potentially illustrate that the animal is not restrained properly, there’s also the obvious risk of its head coming into contact with something, like a bush or a tree, resulting in a bad injury.
“And make no mistake – if you don’t have your dog properly restrained, and it’s causing distraction, you could be prosecuted by the law.”
Recent research by the Dogs Trust found 76% of dogs have no formal training on how to behave in the car, while only 60% of people believe that having a dog unrestrained in the car is dangerous.
They advise that dogs should not travel in the front of the car and the Trust suggest ensuring a dog is well hydrated before a journey.
If you’re just getting your dog used to the car for the first time, make sure you bring something along that’ll offer some reassurance, such as a blanket or toy, and which carries its scent.
And begin with short journeys before progressing to longer ones – and always try to find journeys with a positive association at the end of it, such as a walk in the woods, rather than a visit to the vet!
What’s the risk?
The risk is a fine of up to £5,000 for ‘careless driving’ as well as the risk of an accident on the road.
Rachel Wait, at MoneySuperMarket, explains: “While driving with your pet in your car – whether in the boot or on a seat – might seem like a harmless way of getting from A to B, the truth is you can risk invalidating your car insurance .
“If you’re in a prang with an unrestrained pet in your car, insurers may use it against you – regardless of whether it was as a direct result of the animal itself – so it’s worth being on the safe side and making sure ‘man’s best friend’ is properly restrained.
“Always read your policy in full to make sure you have the correct level of cover for your needs. If not, shop around to see if you are getting the best deal – you could save up to £245 per year simply by switching provider, and it doesn’t take long to do.”
What the law says
According to the Highway Code, unrestrained pets could cause accidents, near misses or emergency stops.
It 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.”
And while breaking the Highway Code doesn’t carry a direct penalty, if you’re deemed to be distracted on the road, you can be fined £1,000 on the spot for ‘careless driving’. This carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and nine penalty points depending on the severity of it.
In extreme cases, the incident could also result in a driving ban and a compulsory re-test.
The law recommends a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or guard as ways of restraining your pet while driving.