3 min read

Is It Safe for Your Dog to Sit in the Passenger Seat?

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Do your pup’s ears perk up when they hear the jingling of the car keys? Many dogs love car rides, and most of us are just as keen to bring our woofers along, whether it’s going on a day trip or for a quick coffee run. 

According to a survey by Volvo Car USA and Harris Poll, 69% of Americans consider their companion animals as family members, and 97% of pet parents drive with their dogs. However, not everyone practices safe driving habits, as 48% do not use any safety driving gear for their dogs and 41% let their four-legged passengers ride in the front seat. But just how risky is it to let Fido ride shotgun?


Are dogs safer in the front or back seat?

When it’s time to hit the road, you want your furry pal to be able to fully enjoy the experience. So you let them ride up front for an unobstructed view, and maybe even roll the window down so they can feel the wind in their fur. But a new seating arrangement may be in order, as the passenger seat can be unsafe for your pup. Here’s why:

#1. Your dog is a distraction.

A canine in the passenger seat can interfere with your driving in a number of ways. They can block your view of the road, the side mirror, and other drivers around you. Even if they’re sitting quietly, they can get spooked or bored and make their way into your lap or under your feet. 

In a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and Kurgo, 29% of respondents admitted to being distracted by their pooch while driving, and 65% admitted to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity, the most common of which was petting their dog (52%). 

In some states, distracted driving laws cover dogs and other pets, so you can be charged if you drive with your pup in your lap. 

#2. Accidents happen.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in an accident. While there are no exact figures for the number of pets that get hurt or perish in car crashes each year, it does happen, especially when the animals are not restrained. 

Dogs who are not buckled in can become projectiles — so not only can they get hurt on impact, but they can injure others as well. Even an unrestrained 10-pound dog traveling at just 30 miles per hour will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure in an accident. Needless to say, the bigger the dog, the greater the potential damage. 

In addition, unrestrained pups may bolt from the vehicle after a collision and run directly into oncoming traffic.  

#3. Airbags were not designed to protect pets.

Dogs who sit in the passenger seat are at risk of being injured by an airbag in the event of a crash, even if they are restrained. It’s the same risk that applies to young children, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise against letting kids younger than 13 ride in the front seat.


Traveling safely with your dog

So how do you protect your canine companion during car rides? Do dogs need seatbelts? Here are some travel safety tips to keep in mind for your next trip:

  • Have your pooch stay in the back seat with some kind of restraint, like a dog seat belt or safety harness which allows them to comfortably sit, stand, or lie down. Be sure to look for products that have been crash test certified by the Center for Pet Safety

  • You can also use a dog car seat or crate. When using a crate, make sure that it has proper ventilation and is large enough for your pup to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Place it on the floor of the back seat or in the trunk area, not on the back seat. 

  • If your dog has a hard time sitting still during car rides, train them to behave in the car.  

  • Remember to lock the windows and child lock the doors before setting off. 

  • Never let your dog ride in the bed of a pickup truck. They could jump out, be hit by passing objects, or be injured in a rear collision. 

Your canine BFF rarely leaves your side, but to keep them safe in the car, they’ll need to literally take the back seat. For more information, check out our guide on which car safety seat is right for your dog.

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