{Legal Issue} Restraining Dogs in Cars

I am going to NY this weekend and currently suffering from some yucky cold that I can’t kick, so when my hubby called and woke me up at almost 10 o’clock last night to tell me he had lost his cars keys I was less than thrilled, to say the least.  He was at an NBA game downtown and needed me to bring him the spare set.  I decided that if I had to drag my butt out of bed, I might as well bring the dogs along and make it an adventure.  So I folded down the seats, rolled the windows down (but not too far because Buddy has been known to jump out so he can go introduce himself to strangers) and off we went.

Getting downtown was no problem, nor was finding Rich….but getting back?  For whatever reason I took the wrong exit and we ended up going waaay out of the way.  And then a police officer pulled up behind me…and stayed there.  I suffer from the delusion that      I’m always going to get caught when there is a police officer around.  For what?  Who knows.  But my mind was racing.  Was he running my plates?  Was he looking at my “My Pit Bull is Family” bumper sticker and getting ready to pull me over and shoot Maggie?  (I have read one too many sad storied about pit bulls being shot and yes, I’m a “worst-caser”, plus I was sick and tired!)  Could he see the dogs in the back and was getting ready to pull me over for that?  It seems like I remember hearing that they are going to start requiring dogs to be restrained, but I can’t quite remember….then the officer turned and I was safe.  But my mind kept going.  Had I in fact been breaking a law by having the three of them loose in the back of my SUV?  Turns out, Rich had already researched this and I completely forgot to read (and obviously post) what he had learned!  Let’s all find out together:


There is currently a push for legislation in states to prohibit driving a car with a dog unrestrained in it. The push stems from a fear of dogs causing accidents by interfering with the driver’s use of the steering wheel or pedals, or distracting the driver or from the added damage that can occur when in an accident, that the dog can become a “missile” further injuring itself and/or the occupants of the car. I know in our household traveling with the dogs in the car has lead to more than one red light being run to avoid having to slam on the brakes and making them go flying.

There are seven states that restrict letting dogs or other animals ride in the back of a pick up truck or otherwise open air vehicles. Though many of these statutes can be complied with by putting the dog in a crate in the bed of the truck, or by cross tethering the animal to the truck.


There are only a few states that currently have any law on the books that can be used to ticket someone that drives with an unrestrained dog inside the car. New Jersey is one such state and a fine of up to $1,000 for someone improperly transporting an animal.  At this time, Florida does not have a specific law on the books for this.

Other states prohibit driving with a pet in your lap. Hawaii has an explicit law prohibiting this conduct and Arizona, Maine and Connecticut can use their distracted driving laws to ticket drivers for this conduct.


“What do you think? Tell mom! She loves to hear your input!”

What do you think? Is driving with a dog unrestrained in the passenger compartment of the car inherently dangerous, should there be a law against it, or would this just be more needless regulation? Don’t just tell us! In a previous post we linked to this Library of Congress website that allows you to contact your local state legislator. Write them and tell them what you think about potential legislation and then share your thoughts here with us.

9 thoughts on “{Legal Issue} Restraining Dogs in Cars

  1. I think it’s up to us to be responsible dog owners in all aspects including how we travel with our furry family. That and advocate responsible ownership whenever we can. Generally speaking “we” as a society can get carried away with thinking that every thing that passes for a good idea needs legislation to “force” compliance. I think that we should be very cautious in our decision to legislate after much deliberation and prudence. (Obvious hyperbole intended) Let’s legislate that we ladies cannot drive with an unrestrained handbag! I personally know that in those times when I’ve had to slam on my brakes more often my purse becomes the projectile in the car not the pup!

  2. Thanks for sharing!! We agree Rich – we’ve taken traffic liberties in order to keep the dogs from flying around. We do have seat belts that we normally try to put on the pooches, but as we all know, it doesn’t always happen. We seatbelt them mostly to make sure that we’re not fighting them from getting in the front.

    We were in a minor accident a few years ago with both pooches in the back. Thankfully we had strapped them in and they didn’t even move. And while I don’t our cheap belts would keep the pooches safe in a bad accident, but it kept them still during the hubbub afterwards, kept them from walking through the glass in the front seats, and kept them in place during the tow-ride home!

    The first crash-safety test of canine seatbelts was just completed and the only passing system (Sleepypod Click-it) is now on our Christmas list!

  3. I always remember the argument my dad made to me when I wanted to hold our new puppy on my lap rather than put him in the cage carefully built for him… if we did get into an accident and the car was damaged and he got loose he could get out, which could involve him running away, being loose by a motorway, as a fellow always “worst caser” I’m sure you can come up with others.

    That sold it for me, it means that if there is an accident my dog would be safely restrained until a rescuer could reach him and move him to another safe place. That had me sold!

  4. I do wish there were bans on dogs riding in the back of trucks unrestrained or having half their bodies and both front legs hanging out the window. Saw both way too much in SC and it scared me every time I saw them have to brake or when they were going fast. Gambit’s dog park BFF once jumped out of the back of a truck at a light because he thought they were done moving and wanted to be petted by people on the sidewalk. Makes me wonder what would happen when the brakes are slammed. But then, I freak out about unrestrained objects in the back of trucks in general. One of my mom’s relatives passed away due to that.

  5. well I’ve read product studies that say that the current safety belt harnesses on the market today do little to restrain and there is no governing agency that tests. For me, my dogs are complete escape artists and would bolt right out the door or window. Remember the scene in Marley and me where Marley goes out the window while they are driving…that has happened with Viola! Sophie used to only ride in what we called “the pocket” my left hip. I have a booster seat for her now that sits on the armrest between the two front seats.

  6. I use a harness to tether my kids when I drive. I feel so much safer with them tethered! Since I got an SUV, however, it has been far too easy to be lax on this, especially with Cooper. He is such a well behaved boy that I know he will not climb up front or bolt if I open the door. This does not help in the event of an accident though. I know what you mean about running red lights! I have totally done it. This is a great post and a good reminder that I need to get back to tethering every trip, no matter how short. Have a great weekend!

    P.S. My kids would LOVE it if my rear window rolled down like that! 🙂

  7. I was laughing out loud at the beginning, because I felt like I was reading about myself! I have this irrational fear of police officers, even though I’m not sure I’ve ever done anything illegal. Just a few days ago, I accidentally ‘stole’ a jacket from target (I put it in the cart, then put my coat on top of it, and then I just scooped them both up and threw them in my car) When I got home and realized what I had done, I was hysterical. I made J call Target to make sure they hadn’t filed a police report 😉 Don’t worry, I returned the coat the next day!!!

    (Not to mention, J has already been fully informed that if an officer ever shows up at house, he has explicit instructions to put the dogs away before opening the door!)


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