Laws on Transporting Dogs in Cars

By Bethney Foster

Most dogs love to travel. Where their people go, they want to go. Most laws regard animals left in parked vehicles. Several states have laws governing how dogs travel in open beds of pickup trucks and a few cover unrestrained pets in vehicle interiors under distracted driving laws. Regardless of legislation, there are many safety tips to make traveling with your dog fun for both you and your pet.

Parked Vehicles

Nearly all laws regarding dogs in vehicles pertain to leaving pets in parked cars. Parked vehicles can heat up quickly, even in relatively mild weather. With rising temperatures and improper ventilation, your dog can die within minutes. Guardians can be punished for leaving pets in parked vehicles under laws specific to the situation or under laws addressing cruelty to animals.

Pickup Trucks

Letting your dog ride in the bed of a pickup truck is dangerous. The animal is at risk of being struck by a flying object, incurring an eye injury, or jumping or being thrown from the moving vehicle, which will seriously injure or kill your pet and may cause a traffic accident. In California, Oregon, Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, dog guardians are usually required to have their pets caged or cross-tied in open pick-up truck beds. Nevada bans cruel and inhumane methods of transporting dogs and Washington bans dog transportation methods that pose a risk to public safety, but these are left open to interpretation.

Distracted Driving

Several states, including Hawaii, Arizona, Connecticut and Maine ban driving with your pet on your lap. Rhode Island has proposed a similar measure. In New Jersey improper pet transportation is a citable offense, but the interpretation is left up to traffic officers. For your dog's safety, your safety and the safety of other drivers, you should not allow your pet to ride in the front seat regardless of your state's laws. If you have to make a sudden stop, your dog can be thrown through the windshield. There is the risk of your pet climbing into the driver's seat and interfering with your driving, and she could also be thrown to the floor and interfere with your access to gas and brake pedals. Airbags pose an additional risk to pets. When an airbag deploys, it has enough force to injure or kill a dog.

Loading and Unloading

While there are no laws regarding loading and unloading your pet from a vehicle, it's an important time to pay attention to safety. Many animals are lost in this situation. Keep a firm grip on your pet's leash as she is getting into or out of a vehicle. Before departing with your pet, ensure that she has current identification tags and on a collar that won't come off. On the ID tag, have a telephone number at which you are easily accessible, such as your cell phone number.


Laws do not require that you restrain your pet inside a vehicle, short of keeping her off of your lap; however, unrestrained pets can interfere with driving, become hazardous projectiles in an accident, or go through the windshield. Most pet supply stores sell harnesses that double as seat belts for dogs. A pet barrier across the back seat of your vehicle is another option, or you can place your dog in a crate.


Keep windows rolled up high enough that your dog can't squeeze through them. Dogs can squeeze through much smaller spaces than you may expect and are likely to attempt to do so -- even in a moving vehicle. Don't let your dog ride with her head hanging out the window. She is at risk from flying objects, which can cause an eye injury.


When traveling with your pet, ensure that you have packed all the items your dog may need. A bowl and water should be at the top of your list. Many dogs get thirsty on road trips. A good plan is to take along ice chips or cubes that will melt and provide water to your pet along the way. Also take first aid and clean-up supplies. If you're traveling a long distance, you should pack any medications your dog may need, a supply of her regular food and her veterinary records, including rabies vaccination certificate.