Should dogs wear seat belts?

So there you are, driving down the interstate at 55 mph; windows down, radio on, both hands on the wheel, and your grandchild jumping from seat to seat, resting on the dashboard, and even leaning out the window from time to time. Wait…A small child unrestrained in a moving vehicle? Everyone knows that’s absurd…Right? How is that any different than allowing your dog to roam freely in your car, while you drive? Guess what…It’s not!

First and foremost, an unrestrained dog is distracting. The dangers of distracted driving are widely publicized, with cell phones getting much of the attention; dogs are rarely part of the conversation, and are often overlooked. In fact, 84% of dog owners admit to travelling with their dogs unrestrained. Many claim to feed, pet, play with, and even allow their dog to sit on their lap, while they drive. This is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention that they may find their way under the accelerator or brake pedal, or even jump out of an open window. Though undocumented, experts believe that tens of thousands of car accidents are caused annually, by unrestrained pets in the vehicle.

unrestrained dog in car looking out windowConsider this…If a car crashes at a speed of just 25 miles per hour, an unrestrained object can be projected forward at a force equal to 40 times its weight. That means your 75-pound dog can achieve an impact force of nearly 3,000 pounds in a car crash. This could cause a lethal blow to both passenger and pet. A study by Safety Research and Strategies found that loose objects in cars and trucks are responsible for 13,000 injuries each year, during collisions. Even if your dog survives the initial crash, they may be ejected from the vehicle, or escape out of a broken window, and get killed by oncoming traffic. Simply put, an unrestrained dog will become a dangerous projectile in the event of a crash. So how can you drive with your dog in the car, and keep them safe?

The best way to drive safely with your dog, is to follow the same guidelines as you would for a small child; this includes child-locking your doors and windows, to prevent accidental opening, along with securing them in a restraint device, preferably in the back seat. Why the back seat? One word…Airbags. If you should be involved in an accident, in which one or more of the frontal airbags deploy, the force could result in serious injury or death, regardless of whether or not your dog is restrained. If they must travel in the front seat, be sure to disable the passenger airbag, and use a restraint that prevents them from moving or leaning close to the side, knee, and driver airbags. And remember, your vehicle’s seat belts are designed for humans, not animals. You need to select a restraint device that properly fits your dog’s body type and personality. Let’s look at some options that are available.

Seat Belts and Harnesses

A harness with seat belt attachment is a great option for a larger dog who is comfortable sitting upright in the back seat of your car. Harnesses should be fitted so that two fingers can easily be slipped under the back, around the armpits, and around the collar. While seat belts and harnesses work for most dogs, they may not be the best option for toy breeds.

dark blue dog harness with seat belt attachment

Transport Carriers

If your dog is tiny or too active to remain seated, a transport carrier may be a good option. The carrier should be large enough for your dog to turn around, stand, and stretch. You should avoid placing it in your car’s ‘crumple zone’ (trunk/cargo area), which is designed to absorb impact in a serious collision. The safest place for a transport carrier is on the floor, behind the front seat.

light blue soft dog transport carrier


A barrier will keep a larger dog secure in the back of your sedan or SUV. They will have plenty of room to move, and driver distraction will be minimized. This option is better than nothing, but does little to protect your dog in the case of an accident.

dog barrier in the back seat of an SUV

Booster Seats

Dog booster seats can work well for smaller dogs, provided that the seat belt attachment is adjusted to not allow your dog to move out of the seat. Ideally, booster seats should be placed in the back seat, as the front seat is far less safe in the event of an accident.

red dog booster seat with plush pink interior