Driving with pets - does your dog need to wear a seatbelt?

Digby Bodenham By Digby Bodenham

It's easy to see how pets can distract drivers but it turns out over a third of people who travel with a pet in the car are unaware of laws about restraining animals while on the road, according to a survey by uSwitch.

Of people that do drive with their pets, uSwitch found 19% say they've failed to secure their pet properly and 21% have been distracted by their pet. And a shocking 21% of people who were distracted have had an accident or near miss because of their pets.

Not securing your pet is clearly dangerous and against the law but it could also mean an insurance claim will be rejected if you do have an accident.

Car insurance policies may not specifically mention animals or pets in cars but if you're found to have broken the law behind the wheel you can invalidate your cover.

Check out our guide to the 10 best car insurance policies.

Aviva and LV=, two of our highest-rated companies, do not mention pets in their policy documents but if you're worried about what your policy covers it's worth contacting the insurer directly to discuss it with them.

Rule 57 in the Highway Code says: "When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars."

Monster Pet Supplies sell a range of dog travel items including harnesses, travel bowls, seat covers and dog booster seats. They offer free shipping on most orders over £35.00. Zooplus sell a range of dog travel cages and crates on their site. They offer free shipping on most orders over £29.00.

USwitch's survey found 21% of people had been distracted by their pet while driving and of those, 40% said they’ve taken their eyes off the road.

Dogs are the most likely pet to be found in the passenger seat, with 70% of drivers saying they’ve travelled with their dog, but more than a third 37% have brought their cat along for a ride. Rabbits (8%), fish (6%) and parrots (2%) have also been given a lift and some people have even driven with a pet snake (1%) or spider (1%) in their car.

If you are thinking of driving with a pet in the car make sure you have the proper restraints, one of the easiest to use is a divider between the boot and the rest of the car. Being safe on the road is simple but as you'll see below it can be more complicated when you break down.

What happens when you break down with a pet in your car?

If you broke down with your dog in the car and required roadside assistance, what would happen to your pet?

In November 2013, a tragic accident occurred on the M40 near Banbury, Oxfordshire. A broken down motorhome carrying 11 dogs and three people was awaiting recovery on the hard shoulder when a heavy goods vehicle collided with it. Some of the dogs escaped onto the road and three of them died at the scene; another was later euthanised by a vet due to the extent of his injuries.

One human passenger required hospitalisation and treatment in intensive care while the other two were shaken up. The motorhome was at the side of the road for hours because it was waiting for a specialist vehicle to come and collect the dogs.

This incident prompted the website Dogs in the News to advise its Twitter followers to switch cover if their roadside recovery policy didn’t make provisions for their animals. It received requests for specifics about which companies they should switch to, so the team started researching which companies are dog friendly.

Breakdown provider policies

Unfortunately, Dogs in the News couldn’t help its readers. ALL the major breakdown providers whose policy documents it read say exactly the same thing: IF they do decide to take your dogs, it’s at their discretion and your risk. That is to say, it entirely depends if the person who shows up likes dogs and is willing to accommodate them – hardly reassuring!

A few of the policies make exceptions for guide dogs or hearing dogs, but not for general assistance dogs, therapy dogs, medical alert dogs and the like, which is worrying. By law private hire drivers must accept a passenger with an accredited assistance dog at no extra cost on their fare, but it’s not clear if this covers roadside recovery vehicles. Other policies state that you have to pay any extra costs incurred when making arrangements for your dog.

The RAC has detailed FAQ page on its website about pets and breakdowns.

Customer feedback

So that’s the ‘legal-ese’, but what about customer reviews? Dogs in the News asked if anyone could suggest a service that had made special arrangements for their dogs or which was willing to take dogs as a matter of service rather than because they were obliged to.

Unfortunately, the responses were too random to be useful. Some people sang the praises of helpful drivers who either took their dog or arranged alternative transport for them. However, others reported drivers who flat out refused to take the animals in any form, leaving them stranded, or forced the dog to travel in the owner’s vehicle while it was being towed, causing upset.

People also begrudged having to pay for extra services; they thought their cover applied to all passengers, human and canine, and expected all expenses to be included as part of their monthly fees.

Inform your breakdown service

Our advice is to make it very clear to your breakdown provider that you have a dog with you when you call to request their assistance. That way they know in advance and can either send out a specialist vehicle in the first instance or arrange for someone who doesn’t mind a bit of dog hair in their back seat.

But that is not an ideal solution. Dogs in the News received lots of comments from worried pet owners, dog show exhibitors and competitors saying they’d happily pay a higher premium for the peace of mind that comes from knowing their pets are covered in the event of an emergency.

It’s stressful enough having a mechanical issue and being stranded on the side of the road, without having to worry about how you’re going to get your dog safely home! 

Tell us what you think

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. And if there is enough demand, we at Bought By Many can start a group to show the industry there is a need for a product for people who want guaranteed cover for their dog.

You can get in touch with us here.

This article was independently written by Bought By Many. We were not paid to write it, but we may receive commission for sales that result from you clicking on a link to one of our partners.

What next?

Bought By Many works to get consumers a fairer deal on insurance. Check out our pet groups for the latest discounts we have negotiated with insurers. You can join any group for free.

You can learn more about breakdown cover with our guide to the best providers.

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