I take Chester and Gretel with me in the car a lot. In 10 days Gretel and I are driving from Seattle to Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer Show. What if I got in a car accident?
The dog’s safety is always on my mind when we take long road trips but, really, it should be every day. The fact is, 52% of reported crashes occur five miles or less from home and a whopping 77% occur fifteen miles or less from home (Source).
There are two main hazards when you drive with pets in the car.
What Are the Hazards of Driving With Your Pet in the Car?
Hazard #1 is distracted driving. A pet that is allowed to roam freely in the car – jumping from front to back seat and into your lap – can distract you from the road and cause an accident.
When Chester was a puppy, and I started taking him everywhere with me, he used to ride in my lap. It was so cute to see him curled up down there and he really liked being close (well, ON) me. He got older and bigger.
One day I found myself driving in the pouring rain, taking a corner wider than I should have because he was in the way, sleeping, and I didn’t want to disturb him. Nothing bad happened but it was in that moment that I said to myself “This is stupid. This is dangerous.”
He’s one smart dog and it literally took me a day to train him to stay in the passenger seat. My problem was solved… for the time being anyway.
He was happy to ride copilot and never tried to jump into my lap while I was driving. However, he did fall onto the floor, or hit the glovebox and then fall onto the floor, a few times when I had to brake hard. Luckily nothing was hurt except his pride those times. But what if I had been going faster or it had been a real accident?
Enter hazard #2 – getting injured from flying around the car if I had to slam on the brakes or crashed.
I wanted a solution that would both keep Chester and Gretel from running around the car AND keep them strapped into the seat if there was an accident.
I got a Snoozer Lookout car seat. The seat can be buckled in using the car seat belt and then a strap loops around that and ties to their harness. Problem solved again… for the time being anyway.
That was almost 6 years ago. Since then, people have learned more about pet safety in car crashes. While the car seat we have, and many on the market like it, are sold as pet “safety” devices, they really only address the first safety concern – distracted driving as a result of a pet running around the car.
The Center for Pet Safety has tested a lot of harnesses, dog car seats, and carriers to see what would happen in a crash. The Center’s Certification Program is the first formal crash test rating system for carriers and other pet safety restraint products. Additional information about the Center for Pet Safety and its Certification Program may be found HERE.
So… yeah… that car seat that we have? Watch what happens to the 25 lb. Terrier Test Dog in a crash (It’s a stuffed dog) HERE.
Now, the Center for Pet Safety says they used the car seat exactly as recommended by the manufacturer but the harness they use is different than mine and I don’t wrap a seatbelt around the dog’s waist (not sure why they do that but it’s in all their car seat crash test videos I’ve seen). I want to believe that Chester and Gretel would be safer the way the seat is set up in my car but I am pretty sure I’m just in denial.
“Safe” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Your Pet Will Be Protected
When most people see that product to restrain your pet when riding in the car is labeled as a “safety” device, they assume it will keep their pet safe in a crash like a child safety car seat. That’s not necessarily true.
To say that these companies are being misleading would be a bit harsh. Many of the safety claims or ratings are based on mechanical strength tests performed on the materials used to make the item. Wouldn’t you want them tested on a real pet in a real crash scenario though? I know that I am giving our current car restraint system a serious second thought.
There are a few companies that have worked with the Center for Pet Safety to perform actual automobile crash tests on pet safety products. Subaru, the car company that loves dogs, has funded many independent studies. One company, Sleepypod, takes pet safety seriously and has funded a lot of studies on their own products. They even had their own crash test dog and cat dummies made!
Sleepypod understands the importance of pets in their owners’ lives and that’s why safety is Sleepypod’s top priority. To protect the joy of driving with pets, Sleepypod crash-tested its entire line of dog safety harnesses and pet carriers at the standard set for child safety restraints.
The Center for Pet Safety awarded top honors to every Sleepypod pet carrier organization’s new carrier certification program. The test protocol, which is a result of the 2015 Carrier Crashworthiness Study conducted by The Center, and sponsored by Subaru of America, outlines a consistent test methodology and evaluation program to ensure pet carriers offer crash protection.
5 Star Crash Test Ratings were awarded to the Sleepypod with PPRS Handilock, the Sleepypod Mini with PPRS Handilock, and the Sleepypod Atom. The Sleepypod Air pet carrier earned a 4 Star Crash Test Rating.
Products that have been tested by The Center for Pet Safety, and are considered “top performers”, are the:
(I’ve linked to the test studies where available. To view, click the product link to read more.) Note: some of the product links in this article are affiliate links. That means when you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a few pennies at no extra cost to you.
Knowing what I know now about pet safety in car crashes, what have I done? Truthfully, nothing yet. I’m going with the “what I have will keep them safe when I brake hard and minimize distractions” and crossing my fingers that we don’t get in a real accident. Like I said though, it IS really on my mind.
The problem for us is that I haven’t found the perfect solution. Chester and Gretel like sitting in their car seat so they can look out the window. I like being able to look over and see their puppy dog eyes looking back at me. The crash-tested harnesses out there don’t fit them properly (I think. Sleepypod sent us the Clickit Sport Harness to try and it seems to big for Chester and Gretel but I’m still trying to make it work. It would fit a larger Dachshund fine by the way.).
I’m still looking and thinking. I’ll come back here an update when I get it figured out.
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.