Cats in Cars: The Law

Black car interior close up

You can’t drive a car with a pet on your lap in Hawaii.

In New Jersey you can be fined if your cat is unrestrained.

In Rhode Island animals have to travel inside a vehicle’s cab (no traveling in the back of a truck, for example) and if not restrained then it must be under the supervision of a passenger.

In the UK and in most US States, there are no specific laws banning unrestrained cats in cars. But there are laws for distracted, negligent, and dangerous driving. Drivers can be fined or liable for prosecution if it’s found that a loose animal in the car reduced their attention to the road.

Some cats curl up quietly on the backseat of a car during a long journey.

Others aren’t so relaxed.

Pets can crawl under the pedals, jump up onto the dash, obstruct the driver’s view of the road, get a leash or harness caught on the stick.  Cats can easily be spooked by a horn blaring or by the noise of a larger vehicle accelerating past.

How easily could you calm down a frightened or stressed cat traveling at 80 mph with both hands on the wheel?

An accident caused (directly or indirectly) by an unrestrained cat could void an insurance policy and leave you to cover the cost of the collision.

In California, you can be charged with animal cruelty if your unrestrained cat is seriously injured or killed in an accident.

You can check US state laws for animals in cars by visiting the Orvis website where there’s a useful map.

In the UK, rule 57 of the Highway Code clearly states,

“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.”

The Highway Code

If you’re pulled over in the UK and a police officer believes that you’re driving while distracted, you could face a £100 on-the-spot fine.

Loose animals distract drivers.

In a survey conducted by the AAA and Kurgo Pet products, more than 50% of respondents admitted to petting their animal whilst driving.  13% said that they gave their pet treats whilst behind the wheel and 4% admitted to playing with their dog.

Unrestrained Cats Can Injure or Kill Passengers

It isn’t just about the law. It’s about driver and passenger safety, too.

An unrestrained animal is a projectile in a collision. The Puppy Traffic School website explains that a 10-pound dog becomes a 500-pound force in an accident.

Unsecured, that 500-pound mass is free to hit whatever is in its way: the driver, any passengers or the windshield.

Unfortunately, you can’t do much to protect an animal from a high-impact crash even with a restraint.  At 90 mph, a fabric or plastic carrier isn’t going to be much protection and neither will a harness BUT it’s better than nothing and if correctly strapped into the car, could save the life of the driver and any passengers.

The Sleepy Pod Pet Carrier has been crash-tested. It could help put your mind at ease if you’re traveling regularly or over lost-distances with your cat.

Cats aren’t always the best traveling companions. They can be pretty vocal and physical when it comes to showing their unease at riding in cars but try to resist letting them run loose.

Restraining a cat doesn’t always mean choosing between a hard or soft carrier.  You can buy a cat car barrier which will separate them from the front seats or you can put them in a harness.

If you do decide to restrain your cat in a carrier or harness, then remember to secure them on a seat without an airbag.

There’s a lot you can do to help make car journeys less stressful for your cat.  All it takes is a little time and patience to acclimatize them to a carrier and then to the sights, smells and sounds of the car’s interior.

It isn’t just owners planning cross-country road trips that will find the effort worthwhile. Anyone who’s ever had to (and is ever likely to again) take a cat to the veterinarian’s office or to a boarding facility will benefit greatly.



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