Data from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association shows more than 3.2 million households brought a four-legged friend into their lives during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Many of these pets and their owners will be taking tentative steps when it comes to car journeys now restrictions have lifted.
And if you’re planning to transport your canine chum in the front of the car - riding shotgun alongside you - it’s vital you’re able to disable the passenger side airbag.
Because failing to do so could result in serious injury, or even death, to your pet should you be unfortunate enough to have a crash.
So says Graham Conway of Select Car Leasing, the UK’s leading vehicle leasing firm.
“Most dog owners will know they need to keep their pet suitably restrained when they’re in a car, as stipulated by the Highway Code. But many owners are left confused as to whether dogs are allowed in the front seat or not. It’s something of a grey area. Whilst not particularly recommended - dogs should generally be in the backseat or boot for their own safety - there are plenty of owners who do let their dogs ride shotgun, particularly if they own a sports car that only has two seats in the first place.
“But you should only ever have your dog by your side while driving if you’re able, and know how, to disable the front passenger airbag, as some vehicles don’t actually have an override function. Failing to disable the airbag could result in catastrophic injuries for a dog. An airbag is designed to provide protection for a human, not a canine, and the cushioning is simply in the wrong place.
“When an airbag deploys it does so with so much force it could even crush a dog cage. We’ve also heard of cases where a dog has actually been catapulted towards the driver as a result of the airbag going off, resulting in serious injuries for both the dog and the motorist.
“We’d urge all dog owners, particularly those with a lockdown pooch and new to dog ownership, to make themselves aware of the dangers.”
The means of disabling the front passenger airbag will differ according to the vehicle manufacturer and model.
But to turn it off, you’ll typically find the switch either in the glove box or located on the left hand side of the passenger dashboard.
If you can’t find one, shotgun trips for your ball-chasing friend should be banned.
Mr Conway also says that if you are considering carrying your dog in the front of your car, be sure to move the seat as far back as it will go, minimising the risk of the dog striking the glovebox or windscreen during a collision.
Rule 57 of the Highway Code, meanwhile, 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 adds that a seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.
Mr Conway continued:
“We’d recommend you don’t let your dog stick its head out of the window. Not only does that potentially illustrate that the animal is not restrained properly, there’s also the obvious risk of its head coming into contact with something, like a bush or a tree, resulting in a bad injury.
“And make no mistake - if you don’t have your dog properly restrained, and it’s causing distraction, you could be prosecuted by the law. The most common charge in such circumstances is one of driving without due care and attention which is enough, in some cases, to warrant a disqualification, between 3 and 9 points on your licence, or even a fine of up to £2,500.
“Don’t take the risk. Make sure both you and your pooch are buckled up properly.”
Recent research by the Dogs Trust found 76% of dogs have no formal training on how to behave in the car, while only 60% of people believe that having a dog unrestrained in the car is dangerous.
They advise that dogs should not travel in the front of the car and the Trust suggest ensuring a dog is well hydrated before a journey.
If you’re just getting your dog used to the car for the first time, make sure you bring something along that’ll offer some reassurance, such as a blanket or toy, and which carries its scent.
And begin with short journeys before progressing to longer ones - and always try to find journeys with a positive association at the end of it, such as a walk in the woods, rather than a visit to the vet!
You can find some helpful Government advice about how to travel in the car with a dog by heading here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/want-to-go-on-a-road-trip-with-your-dog
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