Dog with head out of car window

Travelling with your dog in the car: Law and tips

Last updated January 22nd, 2024

Some dogs are relatively easy-going passengers, whilst others get anxious. Unfortunately, whatever their attitude towards travel, most dogs will have to accompany their owners in the car at one time or another!

There are numerous things you should consider when travelling with your canine pal to make the journey as safe and enjoyable as possible.

In this complete guide, we will explain the law around driving with dogs. We'll also cover some helpful tips for travelling with your dog, including how to manage their anxiety on the road – and the dangers around leaving dogs in cars.

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What is the law when driving with your dog in the car?

Section 57 of the Highway Code 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.”

Penalties for failing to restrain your dog whilst driving

You may be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention if you are pulled over by a police officer who observes that your dog is not properly restrained (e.g. if the dog is sat on your lap or standing on the parcel shelf).

If convicted of this offence, you may incur between three and nine penalty points on your driving licence – or in some cases, a driving disqualification.

Advice for travelling with your dog in a car

  • Restrain your dog properly - Your dog should be safely restrained by a seatbelt harness, dog guard or a crate. (If you use a crate, make sure it is secured properly before travel.)

  • Keep them calm - If you are driving with a passenger, ask them to comfort your dog if they become distressed. Allowing your dog to travel with their favourite toy may also help them to stay calm.

  • Invest in window shades - Affixing shades to the passenger windows helps to block direct sunlight, making car journeys more comfortable for your dog.

  • Deactivate passenger airbags - If your dog is restrained in the front seat, move the seat as far back as you can and deactivate the passenger-side airbag if possible.

  • Carry a food and water supply - Make sure you keep a supply of food on board for you and your four-legged pal in case you break down or encounter an extended traffic jam. You should also keep bottled water and a travel bowl in your car to keep your dog cool and hydrated. (For more tips and advice, see our guide ‘Essential items you should keep in your car’.)

  • Take fun trips by car - If your dog only travels in the car for vet appointments, they may dislike it. However, if you also drive them to the park or the countryside for walks, they should also associate the car with enjoyable times.

  • Make sure your dog is microchipped - By law, all dogs that are eight weeks or older must have a microchip and wear a collar with their owner’s name and address if they go outside.

Things you shouldn't do when travelling with a dog in a car

  • Allow your dog to hang out of the window - Dogs hanging out of car windows risk severe injury, as they could be struck by passing vehicles.

  • Drive with your dog on your lap - Your dog is at greater risk of injury if they are not properly restrained – and may also distract you, increasing the risk of an accident.

  • Open the windows fully - You can safely open the windows a little to keep your dog cool. However, you should never open windows fully with your dog on board, as they may attempt to jump out of the car.

  • Feed your dog just before travel - Feeding your dog just before a car journey can upset their stomach and cause motion sickness.

  • Leave your dog alone in the car - Leaving your dog unsupervised in the car can be extremely dangerous, especially during warmer weather. Dogs struggle to regulate their temperature in hot conditions and can develop heatstroke in a matter of minutes.

How should you restrain your dog in a car?

According to the Highway Code, your dog should be ‘suitably restrained’ so that they don’t distract you whilst driving, injure you – or themselves. The guide also recommends one of the following car restraint methods for pets:

  • Seat belt harness.
  • Pet carrier.
  • Dog cage.
  • Dog guard.

The best restraint system for your quadruped companion will depend on factors such as their size, weight and whether they are predisposed to travel sickness.

What is the safest position for a dog in a car?

For optimal safety, you should place your dog in a back passenger seat.

If a serious accident occurs, your dog will be safest in this position, as your car’s ‘crumple zones’ absorb impact in the front and cargo areas.

Can a dog sit in the footwell of a car?

You should not let your dog sit in your car’s footwell, as they won’t be safely restrained.

If you are pulled over by a police officer who discovers your dog sitting in this position, you may receive a penalty for driving without due care and attention.

Dealing with your dog’s car sickness and anxiety

Car sickness is very common among puppies. Although many dogs will grow out of it, some will continue to be affected into adulthood.

To make things easier, we’ve collated a list of helpful travel tips for dogs that are prone to car sickness:

  • Avoid feeding your dog or puppy 2-3 hours before your journey.
  • Place waterproof sheeting in your car in case your dog is sick.
  • Carry paper towels and a cleaning spray just in case.
  • Ensure there is fresh air coming into the car. Open the windows if needed. (Hot and stuffy conditions may exacerbate your dog’s car sickness.)
  • Allow your dog a ‘toilet break’ before travelling so that they are as comfortable as possible when you set off.

If your dog’s car sickness continues to present a problem, you should consult your vet. They may be able to prescribe a special travel medication to manage their symptoms.

If your dog’s anxiety or behaviour in the car is a cause for concern, you should consult a dog behaviourist.

Leaving your dog in the car: What are the dangers?

  • The Highway Code contains no specific legal guidance regarding leaving dogs in cars.
  • However, during the warmer months, car temperatures can rise to levels that are dangerous for dogs (especially when the windows are closed and the air conditioning or climate control system is not activated).
  • Even with open windows and active air conditioning, your car can reach temperatures that are unsafe for dogs.
  • Dogs cannot sweat in the same way as humans and often struggle to regulate their temperature in hot conditions. When left in hot cars, dogs are highly susceptible to heatstroke. This often takes effect within minutes and can be fatal.
  • If your dog is left in an unfamiliar environment and cannot see their owner, they may become distressed. (This could lead to them chewing or eating harmful objects around the car.)
  • If your dog becomes ill or dies as a result of being left unattended in the car, you could receive a six-month jail sentence and a fine under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.