Car Safety for Dogs
Years ago, I remember how people used to travel with their dogs. Basically just have them jump in the back of a pick up truck or rolling and playing around in the car with the kids. This was long before anyone had ever heard of a car seat for children and seatbelts. If your car had them they were lap belts. Usage was more a voluntary thing. Over time, attitudes about seatbelts changed and are now changing for pets and car safety for dogs is becoming a more popular topic.
There are many reasons why car safety for dogs attitudes are evolving. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), over 30 percent of drivers have been distracted by their dogs when driving.
Most automobile accidents occur within 25 miles of your home. They often occur when running errands, which of course include taking your pet to the groomer of veterinarian or even to the park. Basically, if these errands/trips involve driving, not taking basic precautions to insure the pets’ safety in the car puts both you and your pet at risk.
Many drivers simply do not understand the danger of an unrestrained pet in their cars. Rather than delve into the laws of physics, I invite everyone reading to imagine what would happen if a 10, 30, or 70-pound weight traveling at 30-60 MPH hit you or your children in the back of the head or anywhere else for that matter. By the way, without being too graphic it is worth noting that the 10-pound living missile that your small dog or cat will become in the event of an accident traveling at 50 MPH will exert 500 pounds of force!
So what does a responsible pet parent do? This and other articles will explore the choices available as well as the current limitations and advantages of each choice.
When considering car safety for dogs, let’s start with dog safety harnesses
The dog safety harness is worn like a regular body harness. The device is attached to your automobiles seatbelt. Currently there are no federal or state standards to which a pet safety harness must conform. This means anyone thinking of using a safety harness must learn what the harness is designed to do. While this might seem to some like a silly question, it is not.
In fact, it might come as a huge shock to most people when they learn that almost none of the safety harnesses on the market are designed to protect the pet in the event of an accident. Most are supposed to prevent your pet from wandering around the car. This is not a bad thing since, this decreases the likelihood that your pet will distract you when driving but they will not prevent the animal from flying across the car with tremendous risk of injury to themselves and passengers in the event of a crash.
In 2011, the non-profit Center for Pet Safety tested several brands of pet harnesses using the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS 213) for child restraint systems. The crash test, which included life size crash dog dummies, was conducted at an independent laboratory that also tests for the Department of Transportation. The results? Every restraint system tested failed. For more information on this, please check out their website at Center for Pet Safety.
However, times are a changing. A new standard called “V9DT” has been created. V9DT tests the tensile strength of the materials harnesses are constructed from. Tensile strength is defined as “the resistance of a material to a force tending to tear it apart, measured as the maximum tension the material can withstand without tearing.” For more information on this standard and testing go to v9dt.com.
The tests are interesting and they do show a number of harness manufacturers are aware of the challenges and are looking to improve. However, in my view this does not go far enough because while the materials might be up to V9DT standards the harnesses themselves are not crash tested. Crash testing is mandatory for human seatbelt systems.
I believe we will see regulations appear that hold all pet products designed to keep a pet secured in an automobile to the same or similar levels as human seatbelts. However, until that occurs, you, the pet parent, must be aware of the limitations of the products you purchase.
About the author: Steven Appelbaum is the founder and President of Animal Behavior College, the largest animal career vocational school of its kind in North America. The school offers certified courses for dog training, veterinary assistants and pet groomers. Steve has been a professional dog trainer for more than 30 years and is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training.” He is a lecturer, consultant and a member of the Love That Dog Hollywood podcast team.