Driving safely with a pet in the car

If you drive without care and attention because you're distracted by a pet in the car, you could be fined, get points on your licence and void your car insurance.

Amy Smith
Updated 01 Nov 2019 | 2 mins read

Can I travel with a pet in the car?

It’s legal to take your pet in the car with you, so long as you properly restrain them, don’t let them sit in the front seats, or let them stick their head out of the window.

Rule 57 of the highway code states: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”

It’s not a legal requirement set out in legislation and there’s no direct penalty for breaking the highway code. However, you could still be pulled over 'driving without due care and attention', which comes with three to nine points on your licence.

It could also be used as evidence against you if you were to be involved in an accident.

If your pet is found to have caused or contributed to an accident, your car insurance could be invalid, as well as any pet insurance. You could also face a fine of up to £5,000 if you’re taken to court, as well as points on your licence.

Key points

  • The highway code says you must have pets properly restrained in vehicles
  • You can face a fine of up to £5,000 if your pet isn’t restrained properly
  • Your car insurance and pet insurance could be invalid if you don’t obey the highway code

When not to travel with pets

Defra recommends that an animal doesn’t travel if he or she:

  • Is seriously ill or injured
  • Is new-born with an unhealed navel
  • Is incapable of feeding itself and not accompanied by its mother
  • Has given birth within 48 hours before starting the journey
  • Is heavily pregnant and likely to give birth during the journey

If you’re getting your pet ready for their first journey in a car, acclimatise them to it in the days before you travel to make it less stressful on the day.

How to properly travel with pets

Cages, crates and carriers

For smaller animals, like small dogs, cats or rabbits, it’s best to take them in a travel cage, crate or carrier. These are best placed in the boot or secured on the rear passenger seats with the seatbelt.

Smaller carriers and cages can be placed in the passenger footwells, but never on the front seats, as they’re at risk from the airbags there.

Harnesses and belts

A harness or specially design seatbelt is best for dogs. These usually clip into existing seat belt fixtures and safely restrain your pet across their body, protecting them from injury in the event of an accident.

Make sure there is enough slack in the belt for your pet to get comfortable, but not so much that they can roam around.

Pets should only be secured using harnesses in the rear passenger seats, and windows should only be opened a small amount.

Dog guards

You can travel with your pets in the boot if you use a headrest dog guard between the boot and the rear passenger seats. This allows them to move around without affecting your driving. Mesh or metal guards will protect you in the event of an accident, but not your pet.

Windows

Don’t let your dog stick its head out of the window. Gravel and debris could damage your dog’s eyes, or distract other drivers. Open the window further away from your dog, so it can get fresh air without the risk of injury.

Fit your windows with UV blocking visors too to block out direct sunlight.

Tips for travelling with pets

Whether you’re making short trips or long journeys, there are several ways you can make it easier and more comfortable for you and your pet.

Make them comfortable

Add blankets and their favourite toy to carriers, cages and crates to help them relax during car journeys.

Food and drink

Especially important on long journeys, make water easily accessible to your pet. You can buy bowls designed for use in cars which don’t spill water. Ask a passenger to top up water bowls and give your pet small treats throughout the journey. Pets may get travel sick if you feed them, so it’s best to avoid feeding them two hours before starting a journey.

Make stops

It’s not always easy for your pet to drink, eat or relax when in a car, so it’s recommended you make regular stops. Make sure you stop in an area where it’s safe for your pet to stretch its legs. Some service stations have special dog walking areas. Never stop on a hard shoulder unless it’s an emergency. Always keep your dog on a lead in public areas.

Make sure your pets take a toilet break before you start the journey, it’ll save any unwanted accidents on the way.

Make an animal first aid kit

Every car should have a first aid kit, but packing an extra kit for your pet will help in any unforeseen emergencies. Include bandages, cotton wool, tweezers, clean pieces of sheeting and round-ended scissors.

Consider the weather

If it’s hot, turn on the air-con or open a window to help your pets regulate their temperatures. If it’s cold, add extra blankets and consider turning on the heating. Pack a towel to wipe down wet paws in case it rains. Never leave your pet in the car on hot days, they can overheat extremely quickly and it can be fatal.

Drive gently

Accelerate, brake and manoeuvre more carefully when you have pets in your car. This is especially important if your pet is injured or old, as they’ll find it much harder to control their movement.

Travel sickness

Just like humans, animals can suffer from travel sickness. Restricting their vision can help, such as not letting them see out of a window. If they continue to suffer, a vet might be able to prescribe anti-sickness or anti-diarrhoea medicine.

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