Driving with a dog in the car: what you need to know

Published: 15 April 2021 Updated: 21 April 2021

► How to travel with a canine
► Driving with dog guidelines
► And how to keep them healthy

Do you own a dog who loves car rides? Unlike cats or goldfish, dogs generally enjoy hitting the road with their human companions, but if you’re not prepared driving with your pet can turn in to quite an ordeal.

We’re all guilty of letting the puppy roam free in your car, but in the case of an accident or sudden braking, your slobbering best friend can turn into a missile and end up flying out the car, through the windscreen or hitting and injuring another passenger. 

It’s not uncommon to see pets unrestrained in cars, sitting on drivers’ laps or hanging their head out an open window, but these situations can end in disaster or serious injury.

And unfortunately we also see all too often unattended dogs in cars, which can lead to tragedy.

As a general rule, pets should be kept away from the driver to avoid distraction, and appropriately restrained to prevent it leaving the vehicle.

Rules and regulations

The following rules are a general guide to keep your pet, passengers and yourself safe when taking to the road.

  • Drivers cannot drive with pets on their lap.
  • Pets should be kept in an appropriate area of the vehicle: the rear seat of a passenger car, behind a cargo barrier in a wagon or SUV, or tethered or caged if on the back of a ute.
  • Dogs cannot be kept in the boot of a sedan-like car.
  • Pets must not be put under unreasonable or unnecessary stress or suffering.

Failure to follow appropriate laws can result in loss of demerit points and a hefty fine. The penalties differ between states.

Accessories to keep everyone safe

f you are concerned and want to ensure your dog and passengers are kept in optimum safety, there are various accessories you can buy.

While it’s not illegal in all states to leave your dog unrestrained, doggie harnesses really come down to common sense. Not only will this stop your pup from causing a distraction, it’ll also prevent it from become airborne under sudden braking or jumping out the window and injuring itself or causing major traffic incidents.

Harnesses work by securing your dog via a seatbelt attachment, and should always be used in the rear seats. Some car makers even supply specially designed harnesses for the car.

Hammock seat covers and front seat barriers are also an option to restrict the furry friend’s access to the front seats.

Who should you call if you see a dog locked in a hot car? The RSPCA and the RACQ both suggest to phone the police on 000, or a motoring club’s breakdown line, because both bodies are equipped to quickly and safely open a locked car without the risk of flying glass injuring the dog or other people.

You can also call the RSPCA’s hotline 1300 CRUELTY as a final resort.

If it’s possible to cool the car down – wetting the vehicle or shading the roof with umbrellas or a tarp – that should be done immediately.

Confusing the issue is a law that’s enforced in Queensland and other states that requires a car to be ‘secured’ when unattended.

A window gap of only up to 5cm is acceptable, but a fine can be levied if a window is left open or the door is unlocked and you’re more than three metres away from the car.

But the answer is simple; please, don’t leave your pet unattended in your car, no matter the circumstances. The potentially tragic outcome isn’t worth it.