Direct Line magazine

Travelling safely with your dog in the car

Updated on: 23 August 2021

A dog is safe in a cage in the boot of a car.

How do you travel with your dog? According to our research, more than a third of owners fail to adequately secure their pets before setting off on a car journey.

Driving with dogs requires careful planning. So if you're unsure of the best ways to keep them safe when travelling, here's a guide to cover the basics.

The law and driving with dogs in cars

If you're not familiar with Rule 57 of the Highway Code, now's the time to brush up. It states that drivers are responsible for making sure dogs (or other animals) are suitably restrained in a vehicle so they can't distract or injure you - or themselves - during an emergency stop. 

There's a good reason for this. A 32kg dog, such as a Labrador, will be thrown forward in a 30mph crash with such sheer force that it would weigh the equivalent of 100kg - a phenomenon safety experts call 'canine cannonball'.

What's a suitable restraint for dogs in cars?

Unfortunately, vets have witnessed a number of dangerous restraints being used by some owners, including passengers simply holding the animal on their lap, putting them in a cardboard box and even putting a chain or rope around its neck.

And vets agree with the Highway Code, which states a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are the appropriate ways of restraining animals in cars. 

Often, dog owners will allow smaller pups to travel in the cabin area of their car. In this case, it's essential to use a harness. These fit around the dog's chest and then attach to a seatbelt. 

This prevents dogs wandering around dangerously and it keeps them secure under heavy braking or in a crash. Prices for reputable brands start from less than £10.

Certain cars, such as estates and SUVs (4x4s) may have built-in luggage guards. However, these aren't always robust enough to contain an animal in the event of an accident. The vehicle manufacturer or any number of aftermarket specialists will be able to supply steel animal guards, which divide the boot area from the cabin. Prices start from about £30 for universal products. 

Another option is to make your pet comfortable in a cage. These come in a wide range of sizes, fold away when not in use, and cost from £10. 

Don't let dogs hang their head out of the window

Parents wouldn't let their children hang their heads out of a car window for the simple reason that accidents happen. So, why let a dog do it? It's a danger to them, you, and is a distraction to other drivers.

Consider fitting sunshades

Even when you're driving with the windows open, or the air conditioning is blowing cool air, pets are typically in the boot of the car (away from the air source) and often under the full glare of the sun. It gets hot back there, so consider investing in sunshades.

Keep pets hydrated

It goes without saying that your dog will get thirsty on a long car journey. Pack a large bottle of water and a bowl, and take regular breaks from driving to give them a drink and a comfort break. Just remember to bring some bags for any waste they deposit at the roadside.

Dangers to pets in parked cars

It's not just about keeping your pets safe while on the go. It can also be dangerous to leave them unattended in a parked car, even for a few minutes. According to our research, 19% of dogs have suffered from heatstroke.

Some owners believe it's okay to leave a dog in a car if precautions are taken, such as parking under a tree or leaving a window open. But partially lowering any windows has no significant effect on the temperature inside a parked car. Even when the sun goes down, drivers should take extra care, as when it's 21 degrees outside, the inside of a car can reach over 40 degrees in just 30 minutes.

What to do if you see an animal in distress

If you see a distressed animal inside a car and you're concerned about its welfare, try to alert the owner first. If this isn't possible, contact the police or the RSPCA via their 24-hour helpline: 0300 1234 999.

Find out more about Direct Line dog insurance.

Related articles

A dog cuddles a cat.

How to choose a pet insurance policy

To get the right pet cover policy for you, explore our tips on comparing pet insurance benefits and limitations including excess, exclusions, age limits.
A dog with a bandaged paw.

Guide to First Aid for Dogs

When something happens to our faithful friends, panic can hit. With this guide, you'll learn the best course of action to make sure your dog has the best chance to make a speedy recovery.
A grey cat is sat on a wall outside.

Cat theft - how to prevent your cat being stolen

In this guide we explore why cats are taken, how to stop theft and what to do if the worst happens.