Is it Dangerous to Drive with a Dog in the Car?

How many times has each of us passed a car and noticed the head of a happy dog hanging out the window with ears flapping in the wind? It’s hard not to appreciate the joy the animal seems to be experiencing. And with modern society’s attitude toward pets, more people than ever before view their dogs as family members who take part in many family outings.

Sometimes, we see dogs in pickup truck beds. On other occasions, they ride in the back seat or even the front passenger seat. But now, it’s not even rare to see an animal in a driver’s lap, sometimes hanging out of the driver-side window. And that brings us to today’s topic – is it dangerous to drive with a dog in the car?

Americans’ Love of Pets

According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2017-2018, approximately 68 percent of American households (representing approximately 85 million families) owned a pet. For comparison, 56 percent of American households owned a pet in 1988. Today, more than 60 million households own more than 89 million dogs. It’s clear that Americans have a strong and growing relationship with canines.

Benefits of Pet Ownership

Research demonstrates many positive health benefits from pet ownership.

For example, children who have pets develop more empathy and self-esteem than children who do not grow up with pets. Pet owners generally experience less stress and feel connected to their animals. A study of German and Australian pet owners found that they visited the doctor 15 percent less than those who didn’t own pets.

Pet ownership has even been linked with both lower coronary artery disease risk in all adults and cardiovascular health advantages for older adults from age 65 to age 84.

Is it Safe to Drive with Dogs in the Car?

The answer has a lot to do with where the dog is located and whether it is restrained. We’ve discussed the dangers of distracted driving on a number of occasions – and it’s difficult to argue that a dog in one’s lap is not a distraction. In fact, in some states, driving with a dog in your lap is grounds for a traffic citation.

But danger lurks even when a dog is elsewhere in the car. Forbes cites AAA research in which 52 percent of those driving with a dog in the car at least once a month admit they have taken their attention away from the road in order to pet their dogs. Many admit reaching to restrain their dogs or to try and keep them out of the front seat. Some people even admitted to feeding dogs or taking selfies with them while driving. These activities constitute the very definition of distracted driving.

Finally, an unrestrained dog can become a dangerous projectile in the event of a crash or sudden stop. This endangers the animal, the driver, and any passengers in the car. Therefore, if a dog rides in the car, it really should be restrained.

Call with Questions

At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we understand that pet owners in Oregon cherish their animals just as in the rest of the United States. We certainly appreciate all the benefits that accompany dog ownership. However, there are also times when the law demands that we act reasonably to protect the safety of our passengers and other motorists on the road. Failure to do so constitutes negligence.

If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident due to the negligence of another, you likely have questions. Our experienced auto accident attorneys would be happy to answer those questions for you. Then, if you need assistance pursuing your claim, we’ll fight for all of your rights under the law. After all, it is only by holding negligent actors accountable for their wrongdoing that we can all be a little safer.


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