Pets car ride safe travel provides vital protection for dogs and cats. This post, originally written several years ago, needed an update about pet car ride safety and the best dog.seat belt information. With Magical-Dawg, we used a pet gate to keep him safely in the back seat, and later a halter that buckled into the seatbelt. And because he suffered from car sickness, we also used a great seat cover to protect the car seat. Learn tips for teaching dogs to love car rides here.
Bravo never cared much for car rides. At 120+ pounds, we couldn’t keep him safely contained, so thankfully, he rested nicely on the Kurgo seat cover we still use (see below). These days, I have a smaller safety harness for Shadow-Pup that secures with the seat belt for safe rides.
Why Pets Car Ride Safe Travel Matters?
After the long “stay-cation” because of the pandemic, many folks now choose road trips and perhaps take their dog for a car ride as well. So I’m revisiting the subject of pets car ride safe travels.
Pets loose in cars can interfere with the driver, cause distractions and potentially cause accidents. During an accident, they may turn into furry projectiles that injure other human passengers as well as themselves. During accidents, pets get seriously injured, paralyzed, lost, or killed.
Currently, the United States has no standards or any tests at all for pet travel products, yet many manufacturers advertise claims of successful testing. Distraction protection differs from crash protection. Some pet products companies take this responsibility seriously.
Crash Tests & Pet Car Safety
A few years ago I met Linsey Wolko, founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) at the BlogPaws event, and later interviewed her after Subaru partnered with them in 2013 to study the effectiveness of pet safety harnesses. There were mixed results among some of the most popular pet products on the market touted to provide pet car safety. NOTE: they used no living dogs in these tests, they conducted all with “doggy test dummies.”
The study chose eleven commonly available dog harness products to test that came in Small, Medium and Large sizes and advertised the product as tested for crash protection. Stuffed dogs served as the test dummies in the three size ranges, which a small 25-pound terrier conformation, a medium 45-pound Border Collie and a large 75-pound Golden Retriever, chosen to best mirror the conformation and weight of living dogs.
MGA Research Corporation, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contracted test facility in Virginia, performed independent, third party testing of the harness products. A minimum standard of performance was first tested, and the seven dog harnesses that passed went on to the “crash” phase of the test with the stuff dog dummies.
How the Pet Crash Tests Worked
The tests were created to result in a worst-case potential for injury. For instance, positioning the test dog dummy in a sit position increased the rotation/force in the crash. “The primary goal was to see if we can keep the dog on the seat,” says Wolko.
The “crash test” considers the potential “launch” of the dog from his perch on the car seat, rotation force, as well as how well (or not) the harness prevents doggy injury. Some tests not only resulted in catastrophic failure of fasteners and caused severe harness deformation/stitching failure, but also launched the test-dummy dog, stripped off the harness, or hung/strangled the test dummy. Shedding of the harness/leash also leaves the dog open to escape/becoming lost immediately after the accident.
Only ONE of the eleven company’s products passed the test with a five-paws-up ranking. See the results of the tests here. The Sleepypod ClickIt Utility Harness received Top Performer of those products tested. It controlled both launch and rotation of the test dummy dog in all three Small, Medium and Large product sizes. Note: Sleepypod also makes safety-tested carriers for cats and small pets.
I am not being compensated for writing this post. Kurgo provided me with a free harness and seat cover in exchange for an honest review. Kurgo is not responsible for the content of this article.
What About Pet Car Safety for Big Dogs?
I wanted to find a safety harness for Magic–but the Sleepypod product didn’t come in a large enough size. The one that seemed the best fit, Kurgo harness, initially failed the 2013 test, but the company was one of several that improved the design and enhanced quality control. I accepted a free Kurgo harness to review.
The materials and workmanship impressed me. The company really takes safety seriously. Unlike some other products, this isn’t simply a converted walking harness. Kurgo uses the same type of engineering design used by rock climbers who rely on buckles and tethers to keep them safe.
That said, because it has a ring on the front chest plate, the Kurgo Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Harness works like a no-pull harness and turns your pup around if he does try to tug you along. For the all-important fit, you simply measure the dog’s neck and chest girth.
Fit for a Jumbo-size Magical- or Bravo-Dawg
I enjoyed having five places to adjust fit on Magic. However, the neck band at its smallest girth still ran loose on my GSD, but the company offers instructions how to make a DIY adjustment that worked like a charm. It’s also machine washable–kewl! Price ranges according to size, starting at $22 for the little guys and going up to $32 for the largest harness.
The chest pad reduces stress on the trachea and sternum and in the case of dangerous crashes, this spreads the force across the dog’s chest to reduce injury due to localized impact. The harness comes with a carabiner to attach the harness to your car seatbelt system. There’s also a 10-inch dog seat belt tether to allow more range of movement. Bravo inherited the harness and it also fit him (with adjustments).
How Pet Car Safety Crash Tests Worked
The Kurgo Enhanced Strength Tru-Fit Smart Harness and its steel Nesting Buckles has been tested in both tensile strength, static line test, and finally in a crash test using a sled test (see video, below).
Dog Harness Crash test videos show a 50-lb dog (dummy) traveling at 30 miles per hour. They conducted and recorded the tests at the University of Michigan, an accredited National Highway and Transportation Administration lab, using Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213 for child restraint systems.
Magic weighs nearly 90 pounds so I wouldn’t expect the test dog at this weight to be the same result. And nope, I NEVER had a crash with Magic (or Bravo) in the car. However, it’s the best option I’ve found for big dogs while on the road.
What About Pet Travel Safety for Cats?
For pet owners of smaller cats and dogs, the absolutely best safety tip I can offer is to secure your small pet inside a carrier and seat belt the carrier into the back seat. Wolko recommends placing the carrier on the floor in the back seat, which works well for the smallest carriers.
As with harnesses, there are no required tests or standards that define “safe pet carriers.” Plastic can shatter, metal can buckle, so conduct due diligence in choosing your carrier. Remember that air bags that go off have enough power to crush and severely injure or kill a small pet.
For big dogs like my Magical-Dawg that won’t fit in a carrier, I have him secured behind a dog gate so he doesn’t try to drive. Now I can also secure him with his Kurgo harness. That keeps him out of my hair and from trying to push the gas pedal, too.
Center for Pet Safety Studies: Update
“After our findings in 2013 [on harness safety], we were eager to continue working to bring accountability to the pet products industry, while highlighting the products that will help improve safety for the entire family during their travels together,” said Lindsey Wolko, Founder and CEO of Center for Pet Safety.
The 2015 Crate and Carrier Crashworthiness Studies evaluated leading crates and carriers advertised as crash tested and/or recommended for a vehicle. They used no live animals during these tests. Instead, the tests employed specially designed crash test fake dogs that approximated the size and weight of real dogs.
Many manufacturers claim their products are crash-tested, safe and even protective for your pet, but today there are no substantiating tests or standards in the U.S. The data gathered from these studies will assist CPS in formulating crate and carrier testing and performance standards. Learn to train pets to accept crates in this blog post. They evaluated four crates and eight carriers, and on July 24, 2015 CPS announced that three top products emerged in the tests:
Winners Of the Tests
TOP CRATE: Gunner Kennels G1 Intermediate with 8’ Tie Down Straps
TOP CARRIERS: PetEgo Forma Frame Jet Set Carrier with ISOFIX-Latch Connection and Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock
The full product performance report studies can be found at CenterforPetSafety.org. You can also now look for the logo (on the left) for products that have been certified safe by the Center for Pet Safety.
Seat Cover to Protect Cars
I received the Universal Fit Kurgo Bench Seat Cover for my Toyota Camry, list price $45. My first impressions were the material is soil resistant canvas with a plastic backing to make it waterproof. It comes in either charcoal or tan, and looks very nice.
There’s a Velcro-close pocket in the seat back and front bottom of the seat, supposedly for doggy storage items. There also are Velcro openings for seatbelts to come through, important when using the Kurgo Harness or another crash-tested product to keep your pet safe. It’s recommended to hand wash with cold water and mild detergent or on “gentle” with front load washing machines, and to hang dry.
This is a great product for keeping hair, mud, or other bodily insults like diarrhea or vomit from car sick dogs off the car upholstery. Because it is a “universal” size, for my car the fit is loose and slides around a bit. There are elastic tie-downs for each bottom/side of the seat, and elastic loops to hook over each headrest. Essentially, the cover hangs from the headrests and drapes over the seat. An exuberant pooch could get it scrunched up.
That said, for cars with back seats that fold down, the additional back-of-seat attachment would augment security. The Kurgo Bench Seat Cover is a solid and quality option for toting your dog around. Be cognizant of size differences and read the reviews on the site, since different car “benches” may not fit as well as others.
Do you use a harness, crate or carrier in your car when traveling with your pets? What about dealing with the mess, do you have a seat cover? How often do you take your cats and dogs for car rides? Shadow-Pup channels his Magical-Dawg predecessor and loves car rides. How about your pets? Do tell!
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!