Tennessee Wants Pets to Take a Backseat

Pet Dog hangs Head out of car windowTennessee House Bill 212 will make it a Class C misdemeanor to allow your dog to ride unrestrained in the front seat of your vehicle.

Pets traveling in vehicles must be harnessed, crated or otherwise contained, or held by someone in the front passenger or rear seat.

Critics believe House Bill 212 is over-reaching.

The bill was triggered by a fatal automobile accident involving a woman and her dog.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Unfortunately, lots of well-meaning pet owners who otherwise take wonderful care of their four-legged companions, allow their dog or cat to travel unrestrained in their vehicle. This is not only dangerous for the animal, it’s a significant hazard for the person at the wheel, other passengers in the car, and passengers in other vehicles.

Unrestrained Dogs, Distracted Drivers

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one third of dog owners are distracted by their dogs while driving. Half admit to petting the dog while driving, and over 20 percent allow their dogs to ride in their lap.

Fewer than one in five dog owners restrain their pets while on the road. However, 75 percent travel with their dogs in the backseat and not up front.

According to Jennifer Huebner, AAA National Traffic Safety Programs Manager, interviewed for CNNMoney.com:

"An unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle."

Even restrained, front seat riding is deadly for dogs. Just as with small children, an airbag that deploys during a collision can cause more serious injuries to your pet than the crash itself.

Injured or terrified dogs that survive a crash often run away, never to be seen again. In addition, a traumatized dog might block access to his injured owner when first responders arrive at the scene of the accident.

Dog and Driver Car Travel Tips

From the ASPCA’s Top 10 Tips for Safe Car Travel With Your Pet:

  • Put your dog in a crate or carrier every time you hit the road. You can choose a wire mesh, hard plastic or soft sided carrier. Just make sure it’s a good size -- big enough for your dog to stand up in, turn around, and lie down. Get your pup used to his carrier at home before you attempt to use it for travel.
  • Keep your dog restrained in the backseat or rear of the vehicle whenever it is moving. If you don’t use a crate or want to give him time out of the crate, make sure he’s secured with a harness attached to a seatbelt buckle.
  • If your dog isn’t used to riding in the car, take her for short rides at first, then gradually increase the length of time she’s in the car. Make sure her carrier is secure so it doesn’t slide around or become a missile if you need to brake suddenly.
  • If you decide to train your pup to a seatbelt harness, do so as soon as possible (8 weeks old, if you can), and take short, frequent car rides several times a week to condition your pup to this lifestyle.

  • It’s best not to feed your dog while you’re on the road, unless he’s a real road warrior who doesn’t ever suffer from motion sickness. Most dogs do better with a light meal a few hours before traveling, and then a second meal when you’re back home or have reached your destination for the day.
  • Never leave your precious pup alone in a parked vehicle. On hot days, your car can become an incinerator in minutes, and your pet can suffer heatstroke. Cold weather can turn your vehicle into a freezer.
  • If you’re planning a long trip, put together a travel kit for your dog. Include food, special treats, food and water bowls, water from home (either bottled or filtered and stored in a travel container) leash, poop bags, brush or comb, medication and/or supplements, a pet first-aid kit, and a favorite toy.
  • Make sure your dog is wearing a collar with a current ID tag. It’s also a good idea to carry a recent picture of your dog with you for identification purposes.

For more information on traveling safely with your dog, check out the ASPCA’s printable download, Road Trips with Your Dog.

You can find even more travel safety tips here.

+ Sources and References