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What Are The Legal Requirements For Dogs In Cars

A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Published on
Wednesday 23 November 2022
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
What Are The Legal Requirements For Dogs In Cars
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Travel is an enriching bonding activity with family and friends. When road-tripping with your loved ones, safety is always first above anything else. Of course, you’d love to share these memorable moments with your pooch, too. But, what are the legal requirements for dogs in cars? To prevent breaking any traffic law, let’s tackle the rules on traveling with pets. 

Aside from long drives, you might be traveling with your dog more frequently than you think. Driving to the park, to the beach, to the vet, or to do some errands are a few examples of short distances you might drive with your dog. So, you need to know the laws about dogs in cars while driving. 

Many countries have varying rules for dogs in cars. But, most of them have the same goal of keeping you, your dog, and others safe during the ride. One common rule among countries like the US, UK, and Australia is restraining dogs in cars

Unrestrained dogs can be a hazard not only to the driver but also to the passengers and even others on the road. So, most countries require you to restrain your dog when in a moving vehicle. You can use dog seat belts, dog car harnesses, dog car seats, or crates to keep them in place while in the car. 

Specifics and penalties may differ depending on the country or state, but most follow some general rules. Is it illegal to have a dog in the car while driving? No, but there are conditions when transporting a dog in the car can be illegal such as: 

  • Transporting your pet in an open truck. However, if the situation only allows you to use an open truck, your dog should be kept in a secured crate in the center of your truck box.
  • Using a closed trunk in transporting a dog.
  • Driving while your dog is on your lap.
  • Leading your dog outside your moving car.

In some places, rules may not explicitly express dogs in car laws, but focus more on distracted driving. However, since dogs can distract drivers, they fall under the penalties of this law. 

Dogs in Cars Laws

Since we have touched base on laws concerning dogs in cars, let’s dissect further and compare rules and penalties. Countries like the UK and the US both have rules on keeping some sort of restraint on dogs or seatbelts for dogs so they don’t wander around in the car. Some countries classify driving with unrestrained dogs as distracted or careless driving. Others focus more on the welfare of the pet by imposing rules against leaving dogs unattended in the car. 

Restraint Rules For Dogs 

In the UK, driving with an unrestrained dog is considered as serious as driving while on the phone. Dogs should be strapped in one place to prevent injuries to your dog or other passengers. Dogs that are moving freely in the car can be thrown out during accidents or forward during sudden breaks.  

Many drivers are shocked when they find out the penalty for driving with an unrestrained dog can range from paying £2500 plus nine driving license points to getting a driving ban. So, you must use a dog seatbelt, dog harness, a crate or carrier, plus a guard for large dogs to avoid facing sanctions. 

On the other hand, in the US, penalties differ depending on the laws of various states. Unlike the UK, the specific law regarding driving with unrestrained dogs in most US states only covers those in the open area of the vehicle. The law requires crates secure enough for dogs not to escape. The crate must be durable and has enough ventilation and protection from adverse weather conditions. Additionally, the crate must be spacious enough for the dog to move around, sit, stand, or lie down. 

The only state with a specific rule against dogs without restraint inside a car is New Jersey, where offenders are fined $250-$1,000. Some states give more emphasis on distracted driving, such as driving with a dog on a lap. Fines range from $150 to $500 for distracted driving. Other states focus more on animal cruelty rather than on the driving side. 


Putting your dogs in a crate while in the car is the safest and most comfortable way of securing them. Moreover, if they are crate-trained at home, it’s much easier for you to restrain them using the crate as well. With a spacious crate, they can move and change positions while staying safe at the same time. According to a study, crate sizes affect the safety and security of dogs as well as drivers during road trips. 

Seat Belts or Harness 

If your dog is not used to a crate and getting him in one is impossible, you can opt for a harness. The harness is worn on your dog and attached to the rear seat belt to keep him in place. If you want to place your dog in front, don’t forget to disable the airbags. The sudden release of the airbag in an accident may injure your pooch.

Boot Guard 

Some dogs love to stay in the boot area of the car because it’s spacious enough to fit another canine companion. Having a travel buddy helps calm your dog’s nerves during the trip. However, they can jump and move towards the front if there isn’t any boot guard. So, installing one keeps your pooches restricted, preventing any distractions while you are driving. 

Laws In Leaving Your Dog In The Car 

Aside from laws concerning dogs in a moving vehicle, many countries also impose rules on leaving dogs in the car. Although there isn’t a specific definition of the legal regulations, most countries penalize offenders based on the effects on the welfare of the dogs. In the UK, it isn’t officially stated that leaving a dog in the car is illegal. However, if something happens to the dog, or worse, the dog dies, the authorities can prosecute the owners. 

On the other hand, in the US, laws vary from state to state, and some ban owners from leaving their dogs inside cars. In some places, the authorities punish owners who endanger their pet’s life by leaving them in extreme hot or cold temperatures. Additionally, penalties await for pet parents who don’t provide access to food, water, or proper ventilation. 

Dogs left in an unattended car may suffer from stress and heat stroke. Certain dog breeds are more prone to heat stroke because of their physical structure. According to a study by veterinarians at the University of London, brachycephalic dogs are more at risk of heat stroke because they have flat faces and short noses. 

So, to be safe, never leave your dogs inside the car. Plan your trips so you won’t have to deal with such a dilemma. Don’t bring your dog with you if you know your destination doesn’t allow dogs. If you face an extreme case, leave your AC on a hot day or heater on a cold day while your dog is inside, and only leave him for just a few minutes. 

When Shouldn’t You Travel With Your Dog

Although we love to share the fun of travel with our furry pals, the feeling isn’t always mutual. There are instances when our dogs may not enjoy the trip, or it may not be safe for them. So, when should you not travel with your dog? 

  • Firstly, you shouldn’t travel with your dog if you don’t have any of the restraining items previously discussed. Driving with unrestrained dogs can cause stress to both the driver and the dog, according to a study by Volvo Car USA and the Harris Poll.  
  • Secondly, you shouldn’t travel with your dog if the place you plan to go isn’t pet-friendly. Otherwise, you’ll have no choice but to leave your pet in the car.
  • Avoid traveling with your dog if he is sick unless you’re going to the vet. 
  • Similarly, if your dog has psychological issues, such as anxiety during trips, don’t bring him with you. It’s better to have the behavioral problems fixed first instead of having to deal with more issues in the future. 
  • Don’t travel with your dog if the weather is not conducive for your pet.
  • Lastly, avoid bringing your pet outside without updating his vaccines so as not to expose him to health risks. 

Safety Tips When Traveling With Your Dog 

If you are not facing any of the conditions above, then you’re set to enjoy the road trip with your dearest pooch. But as we have mentioned, safety comes first. So here are our tips to keep your dog safe during your trip: 

Make Them Comfortable 

Secure your dog in a place where they are most comfortable. Also, keep them cool by maintaining a good temperature in the car. Additionally, you can cover some sunlight with a sun shade, or open the window a little for some breeze. However, make sure not to open it too much so they could put their heads out of the window. 

Bring Water and Food 

Keep your dog hydrated. Road trips can be dehydrating to dogs, so ensure to offer them enough water. Make sure not to miss their meal time by bringing their food, plus treats, too.

Bring a First Aid Kit 

Be ready for any untoward incidents by bringing a first aid kit for your dog. Anything can happen from motion sickness to mild injuries from movements in the car. 

Make Stops 

For long drives, make sure to give your dog some time to stretch and potty. This is very important especially if your dog isn’t comfortable with long trips. Allow them frequent stops to breathe and relax a bit before continuing with the journey.

Drive Carefully 

Drive within the speed limit specified. Avoid overspeeding to prevent sudden stops that may cause your dog to move abruptly in the car. Careful driving isn’t just necessary for your dog’s safety, but for you and your other passengers, too.  

Keep an Eye On Your Dog

Check your dog from time to time. Because they can choke on the harness, keep an eye on your dog. Also, check for any signs of travel sickness such as panting, excessive drooling, vomiting, or yawning. 

Why Is It Necessary to Follow Car Laws 

Following car laws are vital in enforcing road safety. Accidents are likely to happen if drivers do not follow road rules. Similarly, laws on driving with dogs in the car aim to keep everyone safe.

For Safety Purposes 

Despite the fun dogs can give to owners during trips, they can be a hazard too. So, laws on dogs in cars exist to maintain safety for your dog. Obeying the law by keeping them secure will protect them from any injury, especially during accidents. Additionally, adhering to dogs in car laws will ensure your sole focus on the road without any distractions that may cause accidents. 

To Avoid Penalties

Depending on where you are located, penalties can range from a hundred to thousands of dollars in fines. Or worse, you may suffer revocation of your license or a total driving ban. So to avoid the headaches caused by such penalties, it’s best to follow the regulations involving bringing dogs in the car. 

Damages May Not Be Covered By Insurance Companies 

Insurance companies may decline your claim in an unfortunate event if you are violating rules for having dogs in the car. Any damage from the accident due to an unrestrained pet may not be covered. As a result, you will have to shell out your own money for the expenses incurred. Plus, insurance companies may charge you higher premiums in the future due to careless driving. 

Similarly, pet insurance providers may not cover vet bills if your dog’s injuries are due to recklessness or neglect of the road safety laws.

Trips are perfect when you know everyone is going to be safe. So, to make your tours more fun and memorable, make sure to follow road safety rules concerning dogs in cars. Prepare everything beforehand to make your travel smooth and breezy.

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