Does driving with an unrestrained dog affect car insurance?

The image of a dog with its head out the window and its ears flapping in the wind is regularly featured in car and travel advertisements. However, not restraining your pet can land you in costly trouble if you’re involved in a collision.

With a properly restrained pet you should have no problems with your insurance in the event of having to make a claim, according to Road Safety group IAM RoadSmart. The problem comes when the animal is not secure and could possibly be seen by the police as a contributary factor and used against you.

Rebecca Ashton, Head of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, said: “We’re surrounded by distractions in our lives but when we’re driving is time to minimise all of them. The Highway Code states that ‘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’, it’s very important to make sure our pets are travelling safely when being transported in vehicles.

Fines of up to £5,000

While disobeying the Highway Code doesn't carry a direct penalty, drivers could be pulled over by police and fined up to £1,000 for driving without proper control if their pet distracts them.

This could be escalated to failing to drive with due care and attention, which carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and nine penalty points if the case goes to court. Insurers are unlikely to pay out for an accident in the event of driving without proper control.

Where should your dog be restrained?

Research conducted by the UK's largest independent road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, has revealed that 42 per cent of dog owners surveyed put their dog in an unsafe place in the car while driving.

Of the 42 per cent of dog owners admitting to not taking enough care, over a third said they left their pet unrestrained in the car, either in the back seat, the passenger seat, the footwell or loose in the boot.

A further 8 per cent said they left their dog restrained on the passenger seat, which could lead to a pet being killed or badly injured in a collision if the airbag is activated, even at relatively low speed.

Neil Greig, Director of Policy and Research at IAM RoadSmart, commented: “Motorists can restrain their pets by using a dog crate, dog harness or a dog guard for the car’s boot. This ensures dogs are not allowed to roam free inside the car, removing any chance of drivers getting into hot water with the law.A loose pet also becomes a lethal projective in the event of a sudden crash.

“Dogs are a loved and valued member of the family in millions of households up and down the country, meaning their safety when travelling should be thought about in the same way as the safety of all passengers in your vehicle.”

Dogs Trust recommends:

  • If using a seat belt harness, make sure your dog is neither behind the driver nor able to reach them.
  • Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably within these secure areas.
  • Thick bedding can help to absorb vibrations during travel.
  • Hot temperatures inside cars quickly become fatal, even if it seems cool outside. Measures such as parking in the shade cannot make it safe, so never leave your dog alone in the car, and keep them as cool as possible when travelling.
  • Dogs cannot cool down as effectively as people, so they might be at greater risk of heat stroke and dehydration. Keep a supply of water in the car.
  • Older dogs, larger dogs, or those less mobile might benefit from a ramp to help them get in and out of the car. First introduce the ramp completely flat on the ground, using treats to reward your dog for walking over it so they can get used to how it feels.
  • If you are present at the rescue of a dog from a hot car that is clearly in distress, seek immediate veterinary advice. The priority is to prevent the dog from getting any hotter. Attempt to provide shade from the sun and move to a cooler area. Dampening the dog down with cool (not freezing) water will help start to bring the body temperature down.
Dog with head out of the car window