No one likes leaving their dog at home or in a pet motel when traveling. One survey found nearly 40 percent of dog owners traveling for two or more nights take their pets with them. Many dog owners love to take their pets with them even when just running errands.
When traveling with a dog in your car the safest way to travel is by putting your dog in a crate. It’s important that the crate is the proper size; moreover, one should make sure to properly secure the crate inside the vehicle. If your dog is not comfortable in a crate, there are many other possible ways to secure him/her, but it is unsafe to let your dog roam freely through a moving vehicle. An unrestrained pet in a moving vehicle is a distraction to the driver (and thus unsafe for the drive and other cars on the road) and to the pet. Even the smallest dog breeds can suffer serious injuries at moderate-to-high speeds when uncrated or untethered.
Many states have laws that allow for ticketing a driver who does not properly secure their dog. For example, a person can get a ticket if their dog is on their lap, since it could make driving the car more difficult. Florida is currently attempting to make it illegal to pet your dog while driving.
States with Pet Restraint Laws
Among the states that do have laws regarding the transportation of pets, only two—New Jersey and Rhode Island—specifically require dogs to be crated or restrained when on the inside of a moving vehicle. New Jersey’s is the harshest, carrying a fine of $250-$1,000 for drivers with uncrated or restrained pets. In addition, having an unrestrained/uncrated dog in the car is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, which means the conviction will show up on a criminal background check.
States with Relevant Animal Cruelty Laws
Other states don’t have specific traffic rules regarding pets in cars, but have statutory language that theoretically allows enforcement via animal cruelty laws. This is the case in Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. It is unknown how often these states have enforced these laws for unrestrained pets in vehicles, but the statutory language allows for it.
States with Distracted Driving or Obstructed View Laws
As mentioned above, several states have rules regarding driver distractions and/or obstructed views. That means an officer can choose to ticket a driver if he/she thinks the dog is making it difficult for a driver to see, steer, or simply focus on the road. Arizona, Maryland, New York and South Carolina are examples of such states.
States with Laws for Pets in Open Trucks
Another six states have specific laws that require animals be kept in crates while driving–but only if the animal is in the open bed of a truck. Those states are Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire. None of them have any restrictions on animals on the inside of a passenger vehicle.
States with No Laws Regarding Pet Restraint While in a Vehicle
The remaining 26 states and D.C. have no laws that require drivers to crate or secure pets, and their respective animal cruelty laws do not mention transportation in any manner that could be used to ticket or prosecute someone for driving with an unsecured pet. Several states have tried to pass laws within the past few years, including California, Illinois, New York, and Tennessee. However, these bills were ultimately voted down.
Oregon and Pennsylvania both have proposed bills that specifically address the safe transport of pets; Pennsylvania’s even requires that a dog’s head and body remain fully inside the car while in motion. However, neither has been brought to the floor for a vote and there is no known timeline for when (or if) they will get voted on. Even Florida’s above-mentioned bill is more focused on actions of the driver than on the safety of the pet itself.
State and local governments have a long way to go in recognizing the risk of an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle. In the meantime, pet owners should still opt to take it upon themselves to protect their dogs by crating or tethering them while in a moving vehicle.
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