Tuesday Tip: Protecting Pet Passengers in Vehicles

Dog in seatbelt
Dog buckled in specialized seatbelt.

(Windsor, Ontario) – It's a sight too often seen: a dog with their head hanging out the window of a car, wind blowing in their face, ears flapping in the breeze. What most don't realize is just how dangerous this really is.

"People think that the pet enjoys hanging their head out the window and it's so cool and so cute, but in retrospect, it's really not safe to be doing at any point," says Betsy Wismer, a Registered Veterinary Technician and full-time support technician for St. Clair's Veterinary Technician program. "I've seen dogs thrown out of windows because they're hanging out of a window and they lose their footing and they fall out. Everybody assumes your pet's going to be okay, but they're not paying attention and they don't know if you're going to swerve or slam on their breaks. And if they slip and their weight is already out the window, then physics says they're going to continue going on out the window."

The first thing you do when you and your passengers get in the car is buckle up. There are laws stipulating this and it's the first measure you take to protect yourself while driving. So why not do the same with your pets?

Wismer suggests specialized seatbelts for your pet.

"It's like a harness that fits on your pet, then you strap that to the seatbelt already hooked up in the seat," explains Wismer. "Or you can get a metal or plastic barrier if you have an SUV or a larger vehicle, so then you can put that up and that contains them to the backseat or back of the vehicle."

Either the harness or a backseat barrier of some kind is best, she says. You can also put them in a crate, suggest, Wismer.

"And the reason for the barriers and the seatbelts and whatnot is that it's very dangerous for them to be in the vehicle without these things. If you have to slam on your breaks, if you have to avoid something and end up swerving or slowing down quickly to avoid an accident, if they are in the front seat with you, I mean obviously they can hurt themselves, but they can also hurt you or other passengers, like children," says Wismer. "There have been cases where bigger dogs have been thrown forward or sideways and hit a child that is in a seatbelt or booster seat and has harmed the child."

While it's important to consider the safety of your pets, in the end, you're also protecting yourself and other passengers in the vehicle by securing the pet, she says.

"So everybody is concerned about the pets – and they should be – but they need to remember that your children or yourself can be seriously hurt," says Wismer. "If that dog flies from the backseat to the front seat and hits you, the driver, and then you lose control and cause an accident, then you're looking at hurting somebody else in a different vehicle."

And pets should never be in the front seat of a vehicle, says Wismer – unless they are secured by a harness.

"Pets should never ever be in your lap," she says. Wismer recalls an incident she once came across when working at a clinic that was horrible and could have been prevented. Somebody had a small dog and it was in the person's lap while they were driving. Something happened and they swerved and the dog fell onto the floor and got underneath the break, which caused them to not be able to apply the break because the small dog was down there. In the end, they had to apply the break and it ended up breaking some ribs on the small dog underneath.

"People don't realize that these horrible things can happen," says Wismer.

Drivers can be charged under Violation 162 of the Highway Traffic Safety Act, says Wismer. This law pertains to things that may be crowding a driver's seat. Whether it's a pet or an inanimate object, if an officer feels it is affecting the driver's ability to drive safely, they may be charged.

"So these are things that people need to consider," says Wismer. "Pets are always safer in their spot – it's safer for the pet, safer for the children passengers, safer for everybody in the car."

So keep these tips in mind next time you're out driving with your furry friend and keep them, you and your other passengers safe!