I have three dogs that love to ride in the car. Whether it's planning a trip to the local pet store, a hike on Government Island, or leaving for vacation, they literally quiver at the question, "Are you ready to go?".
Before I started working in the car insurance industry, I just let my dogs jump in the car and go. I didn't think twice about restraining them. I don't know why; pets are seriously distracting when you're driving a car. Tucker, my Westie, likes to noisily sniff the air from the cracked window, leaving an annoying mess of drool. Finley, the mutt, doesn't get sick like some poor pets, but the excitement seems to cause him to have noxious gas. Not fun contained in a small SUV. Coco, the little Chihuahua, loves to travel but would prefer to do so in my lap.
I think I didn't worry about restraining my dogs because no one ever plans to be in a car accident with their pets. Now I know the chaos that can ensue. On impact, pets become projectiles, causing them to be injured and even injure you. They can also get hurt or killed in the aftermath of a crash, and endanger other drivers.
This is the very thing that tragically happened in our community in 2018. A young VCU graduate, Kate Mason, ran off the road on the I-95 interstate near Stafford with her dog in the car. The crash only caused minor damage after hitting a guardrail and, no one was hurt, but the puppy jumped from the stopped vehicle and ran into traffic. Kate chased after her beloved pug, and both were struck and killed. It was an absolutely heartbreaking story.
The good news is there are a ton of options now for traveling safely with your pets. For a cat or other small animal, a well-ventilated travel crate or other specially designed carrier works best if properly secured in your car. Practice getting your pet used to the carrier in the home first to make traveling less stressful.
Crates also work for dogs, but there are other options. There are barriers you can put in place between you and your dog. There are also plenty of harness-type restraints available that adapt to the existing seat belts in your car. They even have car seats for dogs and seat protectors for your car. I just throw an old quilt over my seats. For seat belts, take measurements or take your dog along when shopping for these items for the perfect fit.
Aside from that, we have a few more tips for safe driving for you and your four-legged friend:
- Keep your pet in the back seat.
- Microchip your pet and have proper identification and contact information.
- Never leave your pet alone in a parked car.
- Try to feed your pet 2-3 hours before traveling.
- Prevent your pet from sticking their head out the window.
- Bring a copy of vaccination records, medication, extra food, and water along, even for just a day trip.
- Never ride with your dog in the bed of a pickup truck or a trunk.
- Take frequent breaks for longer road trips and keep your dog leashed at all times.
- Use the child safety lock option for doors and windows. Pets can step on buttons on the interior passenger doors.
It's good knowing me and my dogs are protected in the car now. I'm a lot less distracted and can stay focused on the road to that exciting destination safely. How about you and your pets? Are you ready to go?