Pets in the car: how to drive safely

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Keep your furry family member safe and comfortable when you're on the road

Adventures can be even more fun with an animal by your side. But if you’re driving somewhere with a beloved pet, it’s important to consider how their behaviour might affect your concentration behind the wheel.

From bouts of barking to sudden movements and untimely leaks, your furry friend could become a distraction on the road, compromising the safety of you, your passengers and other road users.

Naturally, you’ll want to bring your pet with you on some journeys. As long as you’re properly prepared, you can limit any potentially hazardous behaviour. Here’s everything you need to know about driving with pets in the car, and how to do it safely.

What the Highway Code says about pets in cars

The Highway Code includes rules on driving with pets. Rule 57 of the code states the following:

“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.”

The suggested methods of restraint are all viable options, although according to animal charity Blue Cross, a cage is usually best. “If possible have a properly constructed cage fitted in the luggage compartment,” suggests Blue Cross centre manager Neil Edwards.

“If this isn’t possible then make sure they are secured with a purpose-made seatbelt or harness, or behind a fitted dog guard in the space to the rear of the back seat. Your dog should be able to sit, lie down or stand in comfort.”

Does driving with a pet affect insurance claims?

If you are in a road incident while travelling with your pet and need to make a claim on your car insurance, it’s important to note that many insurers will refuse to pay out unless you have followed the procedures outlined in the Highway Code.

This means following the advice above: keeping your pet restrained in the car using one of the suggested methods. Both cats and dogs can become distressed in cars, and often act out of character in this unfamiliar environment. If your insurer learns that you failed to follow the rules in relation to animals in your car, they will be entitled to deny your claim.

Even if it’s restrained, your car insurer will not be entitled to pay for any veterinary bills if your pet is injured while travelling in your car. Pet insurance is the better choice of cover in this instance, so if you regularly travel with your pet, consider taking out a dedicated policy that will pay for your animal’s treatment in case of a medical emergency.

Dos and don’ts of driving with pets

There’s a lot to consider when travelling with a pet, and sometimes it can be tricky to work out what’s best for them. Here are some of the most important things to think about when bringing your animal on a road trip.

DO make sure your pet is secure and comfortable

Choosing a method of restraint that’s both secure and comfortable will help to keep your pet calm and well behaved throughout your journey. If using a cage or crate, ensure that it’s big enough for your pet to rest comfortably.

Place bedding inside to make it extra cosy – this will also help to prevent your pal from slipping around as the car moves.

DON’T leave your pet in a car on a hot day

It’s tragic but true: dogs die in hot cars. “Dogs don’t have sweat glands all over their body like humans,” explains PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman.

“They only have a few in the pads of their feet and their main way of cooling down is by panting. Once all methods of cooling their body down are overwhelmed, as is often the case in hot cars, heatstroke begins to develop.”

Rather than risking leaving your dog in a hot car, plan visits to dog-friendly places so that your canine companion can come with you when you leave the vehicle.

DO invest in a carrier for smaller pets

The RSPCA recommends that cats and small animals should be kept in a suitably robust and secure carrier while travelling in cars. As well as preventing your pet from running loose in your vehicle, the carrier you choose should be comfortable and roomy enough for its inhabitant to stand up at full height, turn around easily and lie down in a natural position.

DON’T attempt long journeys with pets who haven’t travelled before

Being in a car can be stressful for animals – the unfamiliar sights, sounds and movements can take a while to get used to. For this reason, it’s wise to take your pet on a few shorter, local journeys to get them used to the experience of car travel. Once they’re comfortable, you can starting thinking about more ambitious road trips. Just be sure to plan in plenty of rest stops along the way – humans aren’t the only ones who get cranky on long car journeys.

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