Over two-thirds of Australian households own pets, making Australia a country with one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the worldi. Considered by many as integral family membersii, pets regularly travel in the family car. Car insurance can protect the investment in your motor vehicle in the event of an accident. However, it's also vitally important to make sure all your passengers - including your pets - are appropriately secured when you are driving.
Restraining your dog can save its life - and yours
When unrestrained, not only may your pet distract you from driving, they may also face the risk of being thrown from a seat or the back of the car upon heavy braking. If the windows are open, your unrestrained pet may jump out of the vehicle and injure itself. Many dogs are killed or injured each year when travelling on the back of open and moving vehiclesiii. Escaped canines may also be an obstacle and source of danger to other road users.
There are various laws in Australia governing the transportation of animals in cars. In Western Australia, pet owners owe a duty of care to make sure that their animals are not transported in a way that causes or is likely to cause unnecessary harmiv. Transporting animals in the Northern Territory must be done in a manner that does not unreasonably or unnecessarily inflict suffering on the animalv, while Queensland pets can't be transported in a way that is inappropriate for the animal's welfarevi. A similar duty of care owed by pet owners to their pet is mirrored in other states across Australia. If you live in NSW, be sure not to drive with an animal on your lapvii or leave it unsecured on the open back of a moving vehicleviii. To gain a better understanding about the road rules involving animal transport specific to the state you are living in, consult your state's road traffic authority.
Typically consisting of two parts, a harness and anchor, a dog car restraint system works best when it anchors your pet down without limiting its ability to move, stretch or lie down.
The harness should go around your dog's neck, in front of its shoulders and behind the front legs. These come in all sorts of material including nylon, leather and fabric, but make sure you purchase one that suits your dog best. The anchor is a set of rings or a strap that connects the harness to your regular seat belt attachment or to a cargo tie-down ring at the back of your station wagon, minivan or SUV. With the station wagon, minivan or SUV, in addition to restraining your dog down to a cargo tie-down ring, putting it behind a cargo barrier may also minimise driver distractions.
It is always important to check state standards before you head off to purchase your car pet restraint or set up a cargo barrier.
Carriers for smaller pets
No matter the size of your pet, you want to be able to transport it safely in your car. A robust carrier, secured to the car seat with a seat belt or a specially designed carrier restraint, may provide your smaller pet with adequate protection in the event of a collision or heavy braking.
Choosing a carrier of the right size is important; for maximum comfort it should be wide enough to allow your animal to lie down flat, turn around, stand erect and stretch with clearanceix.
Being trapped in a carrier may put an animal under a lot of stress. One way to calm it down and decrease your nervous pet's risk of injuring itself during the drive, is to provide it with its favourite toy or blanketx. The better your pet behaves in its crate, the easier it will be for you to keep your eyes on the road without being distracted.
Planning a road trip?
To make the most out of your road trip, plan ahead and research the road rules relevant to the states you will be visiting. To enhance your pet's safety, have proper transport restraints ready, pack your pet's favourite toys, bring along a first aid kit in case of an emergencyxi and make sure there is an adequate supply of food and water.
For longer journeys, it is also a good idea to familiarise your pet with the vehicle before you leave for your holiday, so you and your furry companion can enjoy a safe and enjoyable ride.
If you're anticipating a fairly hot journey, make sure your vehicle's air-conditioning system is functioning or look into purchasing a cooling blanket that can keep your pet's temperature down and maximise its comfortxi. Last but not least, you should keep the journey as short as possible to avoid any unnecessary stress for your pet and subsequent disruptions.
i Australian Companion Animal Council, 2007, Australians and their Pets, http://www.acac.org.au/pdf/PetFactBook_June-6.pdf, p. 2
ii Zambrano, C., Dog safety in the Car, Dogs life, http://www.dogslife.com.au/dogs_life_articles?cid=9442&pid=146510
iii Department of Primary Industry, Victoria, Travelling in vehicles with dogs, http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/pets/dog-care/travelling-in-vehicles-with-dogs
iiii Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA), section 19, http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/wa/consol_act/awa2002128/s19.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=unnecessary%20harm
v Animal Welfare Act 2001 (NT), section 13, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nt/consol_act/awa128/s13.html
vi Animal Care and Protection Act 2001, section 18, http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/legis/qld/consol_act/acapa2001229/s18.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=transport
vii Road Traffic Authority NSW, November 2011, Changes to NSW Road Rules, http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/using-roads/index.html
viii Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), section 7, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/poctaa1979360/s7.html
ix RSPCA, 2008, Housing of companion animals, http://kb.rspca.org.au/RSPCA-Policy-A09-Housing-of-companion-animals_161.html
x Animal Travel, Preparing for travel, http://www.animaltravel.com.au/preparing.asp
xi RACQ, Planning holidays with pets