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Driving with a Dog on Your Lap

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

A survey from AAA (American Automobile Association) found that one in five respondents admitted that they drove with a dog on their laps. One of those drivers is Amanda Parsons.

This dog is safely secured in a harness. You can also use a car seat for smaller dogs or a secured crate in the back of your car.

“I have a small mini dachshund who sits on my lap in the car all the time,” she says. “The reason for this is simple, her legs are too short for her little head to look out the window. She is a very good dog, not excitable, and sweet as can be. She merely sits on my lap and uses the extra inches of height I provide her to see outside. I don’t find this to be a distraction at all. I actually feel safer with her in my lap because if I were to get into an accident I would know that I could protect her.”

Sarah Merritt also drives with her small dog on her lap. “I have an 11 pound Maltese who insists on sitting on my lap when we drive in the car,” she explains. “Although he’s small, when he suddenly wants a belly rub in four lane traffic or decides to play musical chairs it is very distracting.”

Just like talking on a cell phone, driving with an unrestrained dog is a form of distracted driving. In a crash, an unrestrained pet can turn into a deadly projectile or get crushed by a driver or passenger who is thrown forward by the collision.

“Restraining your pet when driving can not only help protect your pet, but you and other passengers in your vehicle as well,” says Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National, Traffic Safety Programs manager. “An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation this can cause your pet and anyone in the vehicle or in its path.”

State Laws
At least eight states have laws requiring owners to kennel or tether dogs or other animals. As of 2009, states with restraint laws include Connecticut, California, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island. If caught with an unrestrained dog, fines range between $50 and $200.

“Some cities have passed laws of their own,” says Loretta L. Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. “I know that in Troy, MI., a law took effect January 1 that makes it illegal to drive with a pet in your lap. Oregon is also considering a bill stating that dogs must be restrained in cars.”

Responsible Drivers
Drivers should focus on the road, and pets should be secured in a carrier or harness. Carriers should be secured in the back of the car. A dog in a harness should be in the middle of the back seat.

Paws to Click, manufacturers of safety harnesses for dogs, found that more than 30,000 accidents a year are caused by distracted drivers, which includes driving with a pet on a lap or having a free roaming pet in a car.

“Paws to Click was created to help educate pet owners about safe driving,” says Dana Williams, a spokesperson for the company. “We encourage people to use a harness or carrier that can be belted in for their pets while running errands, going on vacation, or just leisure drives. People do not realize what can happen during an accident or a sudden stop when a pet is not contained. They become almost like a projectile causing injury to themselves and to others in the car. A scared or hurt pet can also impede the rescue workers from helping others in the car. Pets become aggressive and protective when they are scared or hurt. They can also run from the scene and become lost.”

18 comments to Driving with a Dog on Your Lap

  • As you know, this cause is near and dear to us. What those people that drive with dogs on their laps are not thinking about is, what happens to the dog if they are in an accident and the air bag deploys? Air bags are important safety equipment for us, but they are deadly for dogs! And, I understand that dogs like to look out the window. But, I also know most toddlers would prefer to bounce around in the back seat, not restrained in their car seat. It’s no excuse. We buckle ourselves, we buckle our kids, we need to buckle our pets.

  • kathy

    I have my dogs in carseats in the back of the car. They work great and they love sleeping in them when we go on long trips – in the winter I wrap them up in blankets and put them in there – and in the summer, I use towels underneath – the material is fleece so they can overheat in them and they get dirty pretty quickly after all the romping in the dog parks. But if you put something down underneath them – it makes for a much better experience and clean up job afterwards. You can get them from either the Solutions.com catalog or Dr. Fosters – I’ve gone thru about 3 sets over 10 years – they last an average of 3+ years until the foam starts to give way. I love these car seats – and would never ride w/ the dogs in the front seat – you can strap them in to the seatbelts w/ these car seats too. One of my dog’s used to hate being in the car and he would get car sick – which is why I got these seats for them in the first place – now, he loves being in the car and never gets motion sickness. They’ve been a great investment for us~~

  • Great advice Kathy! Thanks, Michele

  • You are so right Amy! What really surprised me while I was doing the research was that a number of people came forth to state that they always have their dogs on their laps! I wanted to tell them how stupid they are, but I refrained.–Michele

  • This is great information. I see quite a few seniors in our community driving with small dogs on their laps. Dangerous for ALL those around – including the driver and the dog.
    Thanks for the info!

  • P Elizabeth

    Another great piece. Glad you’re back. It is so tempting to put the dog in your lap, but just the thought of my little Maltese being crushed by the airbag was enough to let me know that wasn’t safe.

  • Excellent post, Michele. Another thing people should realize is that an air bag going off will crush a pet in the front seat, even if they are restrained. A harness, crate or carseat in the back seat is much safer for the pets and removes any pet distraction for the driver.

  • Erin S

    My maltipoo is always restrained in the car…but in the front seat. I never thought about the impact of the airbag. From now on, he will be in the back seat!

  • Sarah Anderson

    One thing that is extremely important is to not let your dog stick it’s head out the car window. It is VERY dangerous to your dog. Particles from the road and air can get into the dog’s orifices: eyes, mouth, etc. and could cause pain and injury to the dog. Also, you never know if a branch or another car, etc. could hit the dog in the head, which might cause injury or even death. Oh, I wish we could educate the public on this!

  • Ann

    For the safety of pets and other drivers, putting animals in the back is obvious. To do otherwise is simply an attempt to get attention from other drivers, and quite selfish.

  • sara

    im fairly sure the law in California is only if you have the dog in the bed of a pickup truck that it has to have a restraint. Ive had multiple cops tell me they do not have to be restrained inside the car. That being said I hate letting my dog sit on my or my husbands lap. If we get in an accident and the airbags go off what do you think is going to happen to the dog? Both of mine are restrained in the back seat.

  • Every time I see a car with a tiny dog riding on its owner’s lap, I cross my fingers and hope it doesn’t fall out or see a kitty on the side of the road and decide to jump for it. My dogs ride in crates in my vehicle. They have nice cushy beds and can sleep, turn around, look out the rear window, and so on.

  • Kris

    Would you hold a child in your lap while driving? No! Pets need to be buckled in or crated while driving for their safety as well as yours. Period. No excuses, people.

  • Your dogs are lucky, and you are smart!–Michele

  • Sara, you are also a responsible pet owner!–Michele

  • So glad you wrote about this! I have so many clients whose dogs ride in their laps. It drives me crazy. I just imagine the dog getting crushed between the owner and the air bag. Why don’t people think about this before the accident?

  • Thanks to the fact my dog is well behaved I enjoy bringing him along with me each time I go on plane adventures throughout the country. I don’t drive with him on my lap.

  • Emory Mitter

    Bottom line: people who drive with dogs on their laps are just dumb.