Dog Car Restraints: What You Need To Know Before Traveling With Your Pooch

I rarely go anywhere without my dogs. They are my co-pilots during long road trips and keep me company when driving around town to run errands. Since I’m constantly popping my pups in the car, I was sparked by a recent article published by the American Automobile Association (AAA) titled “Pet Passenger Safety.” The article analyzed human/pet interaction while driving and uncovered potential safety hazards. They included a survey that revealed 20% of respondents allow their dog to sit on their lap while driving. Hmmm…. I do that. The survey also showed 31% of respondents admit to being distracted by their dog while driving. Another hmmm … but I don’t think I’ll admit to that! What made the biggest impression on me, though, was their emphasis on dog car restraints — like a seatbelt. I’ve never restrained my dogs in the car before, but I’m now rethinking it! 

Most pet owners don’t restrain their dogs in the car. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you. I mean, haven’t we all seen dogs hanging their head and body out the car window as their ears blow in the wind? Then, there are the dogs who chill in the bed of their parent’s pick-up truck. While we often look at these dogs and think to ourselves “sooo cute,” these are major no-nos. 

Allowing your dog to hang out the window or drive in the back of a truck is a dangerous move for a few reasons:

  • Your dog could jump or get thrown out of the vehicle into oncoming traffic.
  • Your dog could get his head stuck in the window (yes, this has happened before). 
  • Your dog could suffer damage to his eyes and ears because of heavy wind, dust, dirt, and other debris in the air.

That’s not to mention it’s illegal in certain states. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. 

Where Should Your Dog Ride? 

The best place for your dog to sit is in the backseat of your car. I know it’s more fun to let your pup ride on your lap, but the front seat really isn’t safe for them. Heaven forbid you get into a car crash, your airbags may deploy. When this happens, the airbags will pop open at speeds of approximately 200 mph. Chances are, your pup won’t survive that. So try and get your pooch used to riding in the back seat where he is safer. You can even use a front/back seat barrier like this one:

3 Main Types of Dog Car Restraints

Car Seats:

Just like toddlers have to ride in a car seat, your precious pooch can benefit from one too. There are various booster seats on the market for small to medium size dogs. Along with keeping your pup safe, they allow your dog to sit up high and see out the window as they ride. 



There are many different types of harness restraining devices. Some of the most popular harnesses attach to a car’s seatbelt. 

NOTE: Only use these restraining devices with an approved harness and never hook a restraint to a collar. If the dog is tethered to a collar and the car is in an accident, there is always a risk your dog will get thrown around and hang himself. 


If you have an SUV and your dog rides in a cargo area, you may want to use a dog crate that’s appropriate for travel. If your dog is in a crate make sure it’s secured to something so in case of an accident the crate won’t go flying. 

Understanding What Actually Happens in a Crash  

To keep this simple and to the point, let’s talk about a frontal car crash since they are the most common type of crashes. Let’s also say your car is traveling at a speed of 40 mph. It’s important to realize that it’s not only your car that’s going 40 mph, but everyone in the car, including your fur baby, is also going 40 mph. So when a car crashes and suddenly stops, the passengers are still in motion going 40mph until something stops them. In the case of human passengers, we assume they’re wearing a seatbelt and this should stop them. But what about your fur baby? If he isn’t restrained, they’re going to continue moving at 40 mph, like a missile, until something stops him (like the dashboard, windshield, or another person in the car). Not only does this force pose great harm to your pooch, he can harm another passenger. 

It’s definitely something to think about. Restraints are making more sense now, aren’t they?

Did you know that some states even have pet restraint laws? 

dog car restraint laws

If you do a lot of traveling in the car with your pets then this is something you should be aware of.  If you are driving through these states and your pup isn’t restrained you could possibly be fined.

  • Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine – A driver with a dog on their lap can be charged with distracted driving.
  • Hawaii – Drivers are forbidden from riding with a pet on their laps. 
  • New Jersey – If a pet is unrestrained in the car, the driver can be charged with animal cruelty.  Fines range from $250 – $1000 and a possible 6 months in jail!