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For most dog owners, the words “car ride” gets their dog excited and begging to hit the road. However, driving with your dog in your vehicle poses a risk to your safety, your pet’s safety, and the safety of other drivers.

In a recent Canadian survey, almost half (47%) of participants leave their pets unrestrained while driving with 20% allowing their pets to roam the backseat, and 6% allowing their pet to ride on their lap while driving.1

The risks your dog may pose

Despite the companionship our pets provide on long drives or road trips, your dog can pose a serious risk to your ability to safely operate your vehicle. There are many ways your dog could impede your ability to follow the rules of the road, for example by:

  • Getting under your feet and near the gas pedal and/or brake when driving
  • Blocking your ability to see out of your windshield, a passenger window, or the rear window
  • Shifting the car into a different gear or stopping the vehicle
  • Bumping into or pawing the steering wheel
  • Distracting you by wanting affection or needing your attention due to being stressed while travelling

The legal consequences

In Ontario, there are no laws that specifically prohibit driving with a pet in your vehicle. However, certain provisions of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act may apply depending on the circumstances.

Section 130(1) of the Highway Traffic Act outlines the offence of careless driving and states: “Every person is guilty of the offence of driving carelessly who drives a vehicle or street car on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway”.2

Section 162 of the Highway Traffic Act may also apply which states: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle with persons or property in the front or driver’s seat so placed as to interfere with the proper management or control of the motor vehicle”.3

As outlined above, your dog could distract you from driving in a variety of ways. Allowing your dog to sit on your lap while driving and paying more attention to Fido than the 401 could have serious consequences. In the event you are involved in a collision, you may be held liable for causing the collision, or deemed contributorily negligent, depending on the circumstances.

What you can do

To keep yourself, your pet, and other drivers on the road safe, there are a variety of steps you can take to reduce the risk of your dog becoming a distraction while driving. Before even getting into the vehicle with your dog, make sure your companion is comfortable travelling in a vehicle and can tolerate it.

Similar to the use of a seatbelt, consider investing in a pet restraint to prevent your dog from moving too much and also increase their safety in the event of a collision. What works best for your dog will vary depending on the needs and comfort of your pet but some options include:

  • A car harness
  • A carrier or crate
  • A rear booster seat
  • A backseat hammock or sling
  • A rear seat guard or barrier

It may also be wise to take breaks as needed and keep a doggy travel kit handy with items to keep your pet calm and comfortable such as water, food, treats, a blanket, and other items.

Sarah Lawson practices with the Siskinds Personal Injury department. If you have any questions about the information contained within this article or any other personal injury questions, please write to [email protected] or call her direct line at 226.330.0410.

1 47% of Canadians in an Allstate Survey Drive with Unrestrained Pets | Financial Post.

2 Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8.

3 Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8.

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