It's actually illegal to not have your pet properly restrained in your car.
It's actually illegal to not have your pet properly restrained in your car.

Doggone it! Did you know unrestrained pets are illegal?

ASK any owner and they'll say their dog is part of the family - yet most have no idea how to ensure the pet's comfort on car trips and survival in an accident.

We buckle up, check our kids' restraints are properly fastened and then let the pooch wander around the cabin or in the tray without protection.

And pets need protection in a car crash, as they are subject to the same deceleration as human occupants.

More than 5000 pets are hurt or killed in crashes in Australia each year. Spinal and leg injuries, the most common, are painful, long-term matters that are expensive to treat.

Restraining your beloved pooch in the first place is a far less costly exercise, one that could spare you not just from veterinary bills but from traffic fines.

It is illegal for a pet to not be properly restrained - and that absolutely means not sitting on the driver's lap.

Fines and demerit points apply and the consequences can include jail time under the prevention of cruelty to animals provisions if your pet is injured or hurts someone else during a collision.

There is no official standard for pet restraints, meaning the quality of products varies from rubbish to robust.

The NRMA highlighted the problem in 2013 when it tested 25 dog restraints. Only two, the Purina Roadie and Sleepypod Clickit, restrained the animal in both a simulated 20kmh crash and a "drop" test at 35kmh.

NRMA engineers identified the plastic buckles, similar to those found on backpacks, as the weak link in the other products.

These buckles gave way when the test dummy animal's weight abruptly hit them, making them useless in the event of a crash.

NRMA Insurance head of research Robert McDonald says testing shows an effective harness is critical.

"Most people using the commonly available harnesses are doing so in a genuine attempt to keep their pets safe," he says. "However our testing has unfortunately shown that most harnesses, while effective at restraining pets, are not safety devices and do little to prevent injury in a common low-speed crash."


A dog enjoys the confines of an Audi Q5.
A dog enjoys the confines of an Audi Q5.

Similar results have been seen overseas. Since 2013 in the US, the Centre for Pet Safety has teamed with Subaru of America to test harnesses and to date has approved only the Sleepypod as a safety restraint.

There are three basic types of in-car restraint: harness, carrier and cage.

The first is effectively a seat belt for dogs and is usually secured to the child seat mounting points or the car seat belt. Prices range from $20-$150 depending on the size.

Never carry your pet in the front seat - the passenger's airbag isn't going to do it a lot of good if you do have a crash.

Carriers are a booster seat for dogs and also fasten to the car's seat belt. Testing has shown most turn into an additional projectile in the event of a crash, typically because of buckle failure.

Crates are more secure than a cargo barrier and are a smart option if you have a couple of dogs to transport. They need to be bolted to the floor or secured to the anchorage points in the cargo area.

Who's got what?

Car brands have long recognised people travel with their pets but until recently haven't tried to market products, or vehicles, specifically for pet owners, beyond a set of seat covers, floor mats and a cargo barrier.

Audi was one of the first to tailor accessories for four-legged companions and has a rear seat protective cover at $311 and an Audi-branded harness (notably, plastic buckles are absent) for $153.

The Bavarians have similar products to protect both pets and cars. BMW's rear seat protector sells for $260 and the loading sill mat (which flips out over the rear bumper of SUVs and wagons) is $145.

Skoda has its own dog harness for $160-$250 and the accessories list includes a rear seat protector.

Subaru likewise sells rear seat protectors ($451 fitted), along with branded dog collars, collapsible bowls and chew toys.

It puts the prospect of fanging a Subaru in a whole new light.

Over at Jaguar Land Rover, the family that dresses together impresses together, which helps explain the company's leather collar and leash with dog tag for $65 or the ceramic dog bowl for $28, both with the HUE 166 logo (recalling the number plate of the first Land Rover in 1948).


Andrew Pretto and Olivia Rogers with Mooshie the Alaskan Malamute.
Andrew Pretto and Olivia Rogers with Mooshie the Alaskan Malamute. Timothy Carrafa

Special treatment

MOOSHIE has top billing with Olivia Rogers. The 11-year-old malamute is more popular on Instagram than his Adelaide model owner, with more than 100,000 followers. She and partner Andrew Pretto ensure their prized pooch is well secured.

In Pretto's new Nissan Qashqai, Mooshie will occupy the back seat - all of it - with a harness.

"He sheds (hair) a lot. We get him groomed every month - his hair costs more than mine," Rogers jokes. "He's pretty good in the car. He just watches out the windows."

Rogers commutes to Melbourne and says simple steps, such as stopping every couple of hours for a run/drink/toilet break, keep dog and driver more focused.

"He doesn't really get fidgety but we make sure he's not cooped up for too long."

Being a social media superstar ensures Mooshie attracts ample attention. "People are always recognising him and coming over for a talk and a pat," Rogers says. Mooshie and dachshund mate Ginger are considered "our babies", she says. "We go everywhere with them. If you love your pets, it's your responsibility to keep them safe."


Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.
Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.

X-Trail 4Dogs

NISSAN has just launched its X-Trail 4Dogs concept vehicle (right) to show what a dog-devoted car owner could and should buy. The project began after Nissan surveys showed 90 per cent of pet owners wanted a vehicle with more dog-friendly features.

Accordingly, the bespoke SUV has a retractable ramp so the dog can walk into the cargo area, a 10-inch screen embedded in the back so the dog can see its owner and a washer and blow dryer secreted away in drawers under the floor. There are also extra ventilation in the back, a no-spill water bowl and a smart (paw-activated) food dispenser.


Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.
Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.


Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.
Nissan's X-Trail 4Dogs concept.

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