Caring for your dogs on the road

Following these tips can keep your fur-kids and your human passengers safe when travelling

Dogs In Hot Car TR 1 Jpg

Do you own a dog who loves car rides? Unlike cats or goldfish, dogs generally enjoy hitting the road with their human companions, but if you’re not prepared driving with your pet can turn in to quite an ordeal.

We’re all guilty of letting the puppy roam free in your car, but in the case of an accident or sudden braking, your slobbering best friend can turn into a missile and end up flying out the car, through the windscreen or hitting and injuring another passenger. 

Australian road rules you didn’t know existed

As Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world according to the Australian Companion Animal Council, and it’s important everyone travelling with pets know the regulations.

It’s not uncommon to see pets unrestrained in cars, sitting on drivers’ laps or hanging their head out an open window, but these situations can end in disaster or serious injury.

And unfortunately we also see all too often unattended dogs in cars, which can lead to tragedy.

Each state in Australia has its own set of rules and regulations so be sure to look up any laws of states you’re travelling through.

As a general rule, pets should be kept away from the driver to avoid distraction, and appropriately restrained to prevent it leaving the vehicle.

Rules and regulations

The following rules are a general guide to keep your pet, passengers and yourself safe when taking to the road.

  • Drivers cannot drive with pets on their lap.
  • Pets should be kept in an appropriate area of the vehicle: the rear seat of a passenger car, behind a cargo barrier in a wagon or SUV, or tethered or caged if on the back of a ute.
  • Dogs cannot be kept in the boot of a sedan-like car.
  • Pets must not be put under unreasonable or unnecessary stress or suffering.

Failure to follow appropriate laws can result in loss of demerit points and a hefty fine. The penalties differ between states.

Accessories to keep everyone safe

If you are concerned and want to ensure your dog and passengers are kept in optimum safety, there are various accessories you can buy.

While it’s not illegal in all states to leave your dog unrestrained, doggie harnesses really come down to common sense. Not only will this stop your pup from causing a distraction, it’ll also prevent it from become airborne under sudden braking or jumping out the window and injuring itself or causing major traffic incidents.

Harnesses work by securing your dog via a seatbelt attachment, and should always be used in the rear seats. Some car makers even supply specially designed harnesses for the car like this one from Skoda.

Hammock seat covers and front seat barriers are also an option to restrict the furry friend's access to the front seats.

If you prefer to keep your pup in the cargo area of your wagon or SUV, and prefer to not keep them locked up in a travelling crate or container, then consider a cargo barrier.

Other things to consider when travelling with dogs

Of course, it should be a given that any time you travel with pets, you do what you can to ensure their road trip is as comfortable and carefree as possible.

This means have water and food on hand, and discussing options with your vet to prevent or deal with doggie motion sickness.

Can I leave my dog in my car for a couple of minutes?

Think for a moment about your car. That interior space has a big volume of air, and its windows allow in a lot of sunlight.

When subjected to radiant heat, that air space becomes a furnace. And quickly. If you have to ask yourself ‘can I leave my dog in the car?’ that answer is no.

The ambient temperature inside a sealed car on a sunny 20-degree Celsius day can double in less than ten minutes, and rise to as much as 60 degrees C within 30 minutes.

Even on a sunny 15-degree C day, internal temperatures can reach dangerous levels.

Studies have also shown that even cracking the windows open to cool the car is ineffective, as temperatures will still quickly rise to 80 per cent of the maximum.

While these temperatures are incredibly uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for humans for a brief period, it’s much worse for dogs, who can’t process heat as efficiently as we can.

The RSPCA estimates a dog can die of heat-related causes in as little as six minutes.

Dogs left in cars are particularly at risk because they don't sweat, so they cool themselves by panting, exposing their tongue that acts as a radiator to cool the blood.

If the air around them is too hot, especially if they don’t have access to water, a dog is physically unable to regulate its body temperature.

In the time it takes to grab something from the shop, a dog left in a hot car may die an agonising death.

Leave your dog at home if you have to leave him or her unattended. If you’re caught leaving a dog locked in a car and causing it distress, you can be fined up to $50,000 or charged for animal cruelty by police or the RSPCA.

Can I break a window to save a dog?

The legalities around rescuing a dog in distress are complex – there is no ‘dog in car law’, and property damage is property damage.

There are alternatives to breaking a car window to save an animal, though.

Who should you call if you see a dog locked in a hot car? The RSPCA and the RACQ both suggest to phone the police on 000, or a motoring club’s breakdown line, because both bodies are equipped to quickly and safely open a locked car without the risk of flying glass injuring the dog or other people.

You can also call the RSPCA’s hotline 1300 CRUELTY as a final resort.

If it's possible to cool the car down – wetting the vehicle or shading the roof with umbrellas or a tarp – that should be done immediately.

Confusing the issue is a law that’s enforced in Queensland and other states that requires a car to be ‘secured’ when unattended.

A window gap of only up to 5cm is acceptable, but a fine can be levied if a window is left open or the door is unlocked and you’re more than three metres away from the car.

But the answer is simple; please, don’t leave your pet unattended in your car, no matter the circumstances. The potentially tragic outcome isn’t worth it.


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