As is the case with many areas in respect to animals and animal welfare, there is significant ambiguity in the phrasing of the rules surrounding the carrying of pets in our vehicles.
According to DEFRA and the Scottish Executive the UK Highway Code states: “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other small animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you if you stop quickly”. It then goes on to say that in some other European countries, the law does not allow dogs to travel loose in vehicles.
So these two pieces of information appear to be directly contradictory since if there is not a law in the UK that states it is illegal for an animal to travel loose then there cannot be an enforceable law to say they must be suitably restrained. In addition, the phrase ‘suitably restrained’ is so vague as to be open to considerable interpretation.
Confusion is further compounded by DEFRA’s statement ‘if your dog travels loose in the vehicle, it should not be able to escape through any window’. They suggest fitting window guards in this case.
It is, therefore, perhaps unsurprising that this uncertainty has led to some worrying results seen in a recent RAC survey of motorists. More than one in four dog owning motorists do not secure their pets in any way. 28% allow them to move freely in a car; hoping they will stay safely in place in the footwells, on the car seats or in the luggage compartment of an estate car or hatchback that does not have a dog guard fitted. Cat owners faired very well however, with over 90% transporting their felines in suitable carriers that are secured in place.
As a responsible animal welfare charity, we would always advocate following the most sensible guidelines on this matter. As such we feel that we should all err on the side of caution and review what arrangements we need to make to maximise the safety of our pets, ourselves, other road users and pedestrians.
If carrying dogs in the back of an estate or hatchback you should fit an approved dog guard. If dog crates or cat carriers are used they need to be properly tethered to the vehicle as per the instruction in the car’s manual. If dogs are transported on back seats an approved dog seat belt harness should always be used.