Driving with pets is commonplace — more than a quarter of pet parents surveyed (27%) usually or always travel with their pet. Another 41% take their pet in the car sometimes or as needed. During these trips, most pet parents aren’t prioritizing the right things when it comes to pet car safety. Almost half (47%) let their pet roam freely in the car. Nine percent of respondents even admitted to taking photos of their pet while driving.
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We asked Lindsey Wolko — the founder of the Center for Pet Safety (CPS), a nonprofit that rates pet products for safety — about these survey results. She wasn’t surprised. “Most pet owners want to protect their pets in a crash,” she says. “That is their number one goal. They don’t even think about themselves. But most pet owners do not restrain or contain in any way.”
According to Dr. Chris Roth, resident veterinarian at Pets Best pet insurance, many people don’t think it’s worth the extra time to secure their pet with a pet safety harness or carrier, especially for short trips. “They think, ‘I’m just going on a short trip to the vet. It’s only a mile away.'” But even the shortest trip can pose serious dangers, not just to the pet but to anyone in the car. We’d never drive without buckling up our children, and our pets deserve the same consideration.
Most car rides with pets happen close to home — so do most accidents
Dr. Roth is right about the length of trips we take with pets. Most journeys with pets are shorter — more than 85% of pet parents say trips are under 25 miles, and 68% say they’re 10 miles or shorter.
And according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), most accidents occur within 25 miles of home. Our short routes put pets in the most frequent danger — that makes consistent and proper pet car safety all the more important.
What’s more, Wolko says, pet-involved crashes may be more common than we know. “A lot of this data is not captured at the crash time,” she says. “When [responders] go to do reconnaissance on a crash or triage a crash, they can see that a dog may have been involved, but it’s not typically documented.”
What do pet parents think will keep their pets safe in the car?
The overwhelming majority (76%) of pet parents surveyed rely on driving slower to keep their pets safe and comfortable in the car. Justin Sims, a cat owner in Minnesota, finds he’s much more vigilant when driving with his cat in the car. “I accelerate and brake more slowly. Both to make sure I’m not having any jarring motions that’ll freak [my cat] out, but also to make sure I’m keeping enough tabs on my surroundings where I’m not going to put him in danger.”
Many respondents knew the proper way to secure a pet in the car: pet carriers (51%) and seat belt harnesses (46%). But we asked if they actually use those methods, and most don’t. When asked to select all the methods they use, only 27% of survey respondents say they use a pet carrier, and only 17% say they use a seat belt harness.