Travelling safely with dogs

We are a nation of animal lovers and many of us consider our pets to be a part of our family. As a result, travelling by car with dogs has become extremely common, whether that is taking your pets with you on holiday, taking the dog to the vets, a day trip to the beach or simply taking your pet with you so they are not left in the house alone all day. However, unfortunately, it is common place to see cars on the motorway with unrestrained dogs leaning out of the window appearing as though they may jump out at any moment. As a dog lover myself, I am always terrified that the dog may come to some harm should the vehicle be forced to brake swiftly or even become involved in a collision. So, what is the law on driving with dogs?

UK Law for Driving with Dogs in a Car

The Highway Code (@HighWayCodeGB on Twitter)

Rule 58 of the Highway Code deals with travelling with pets and 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.”

Potential Offences

Whilst breaching the Highway Code is not necessarily an offence in itself, there are a number of offences that could potentially arise as result of driving with an unrestrained pet. A motorist could be considered to be driving ‘without due care and attention’ if it was felt that their standard of driving fell below that expected of a competent driver or that they did not show “reasonable” consideration for other road users. There is no definitive list of actions that can amount to careless driving however a distracting unrestrained dog jumping about in a vehicle could definitely be considered to sufficient.

More concerning is the potential for an accident and if that were to arise, the more serious offence of dangerous driving could be applicable. The penalty for dangerous driving is far more severe as the offence attracts not only a custodial sentence but also a mandatory disqualification of at least twelve months.

Potential for Injury

Perhaps more significant to a dog lover than the potential for prosecution is the risk of injury to your dog from travelling unrestrained. Not only can a loose dog easily distract the driver but unrestrained dogs can also block or move the steering wheel, gear stick and foot pedals. A loose dog could be injured or killed by an airbag and when hanging its head out of a car window, debris from the road could injure a dog’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Rachael Kilroy, Senior Veterinary Surgeon at Vets for Life (http://vetsforlife.com.sg/team/) advises:

“If a dog is not secured safely then sharp braking or a collision could result in them being catapulted sharply forwards, potentially causing life-threatening internal injuries, as well as trauma to people in the car.”

Types of suitable restraints

There are a number of suitable restraints on the market ranging from pet seatbelts to harnesses and crates that can be secured in the boot of a vehicle. We would always advise visiting a pet shop to consider all options as different restraints may be more suitable than others depending on the size of your dog and/or your type of vehicle.

Our advice on travelling with dogs:

Ruth Peters, Specialist Motoring Solicitor at Olliers Motor Law advises taking the following precautions when travelling with your dog:

  1. Also use an appropriate pet restraint and never drive with an unrestrained pet.
  2. Take regular breaks and always offer your dog drinking water at appropriate times as well as allowing them to exercise when taking a break.
  3. Never ever leave a dog alone in a vehicle. Dogs are not able to cool down as effectively as humans so could suffer from heat stroke and dehydration very quickly. Leaving a window open or parking in the shade is simply not sufficient and vehicles can become extremely hot very quickly.
  4. Do not let dogs hang their head outside cars. The Dogs Trust advises that owners shouldn’t allow their dog to hang their head out of the window while they are moving as this could be potentially dangerous for the dog as well as distracting for the owner.
  5. Let your dog get used to travelling in a car. If your dog is not a regular traveller then build up journeys with short trips before conspiring embarking on a long journey.

Finally if you ever see a distressed dog in a vehicle please call 999 or the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 or follow them on Twitter @RSPCA_official

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