There’s something romantic about hitting the road with your dog as your co-pilot—even if you’re only going as far as Starbucks. But—beep, beep—this is actually a huge no-no, and you aren’t doing your dog (or yourself!) any favors by offering up the passenger seat to your pup. Here are four reasons why you should never allow your dog to ride in the front seat, no matter how much they beg.
This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Accidents happen. They also happen fast. Like, in a few seconds. Hundreds of pets are injured and killed every year in car accidents because pet owners get soft about safety. We don’t blame you—it’s super easy to get lax about a quick trip or ease up on the rules during a long haul. Who can say no to those sad puppy eyes?
The thing is, a dog chilling in the front seat is just as much at risk during a collision as a person in the same spot. This could mean going through the windshield, hitting the dashboard or getting extreme whiplash from the impact.
What could make accidents even worse for dogs, though, is lack of restraints. More often than not, dogs allowed to ride shotgun aren’t buckled up or harnessed in any way. You wouldn’t let your friend ride without a seatbelt, so why risk it with your dog? This practice is incredibly dangerous and increases the likelihood that in the event of an accident, the dog will be thrown either through the windshield or around the car, potentially causing greater injury to herself and other passengers.
According to Paws to Click, an organization dedicated to pet safety during travel, if a 75-pound pup is in a car traveling 30 miles per hour and the car crashes, the dog will exert roughly 2,250 pounds of force on whatever it hits. Sound like a question on a math test? Sure. Super important to understand? You bet. That’s like getting hit in the chest with a small horse.
In addition, unrestrained pups have been known to exit a vehicle after a crash and dart directly into traffic. The trauma and confusion of a collision is terrifying; dogs able to get away will want to run from the wreckage as soon as they can. Harnessing them will help prevent against injury not only during an accident but after, as well.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that kids under 13 years old shouldn’t ride in the front seat because the positioning of the airbags could do some serious damage should they go off during an impact. This probably has more to do with height than age, so a good rule of thumb is to remember that a seat belt should fall across a person’s chest, not their neck.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the same airbag risks apply to dogs. A dog sitting in a driver’s lap or the passenger seat could be seriously hurt (or killed) by an airbag.
Your dog probably gets amped up to be allowed into cars for fun excursions to the dog park or beach. The problem is, many of these pooches perch themselves in the front seat, becoming a huge distraction to drivers. Even small dogs sitting quietly can get spooked or find their way under your feet, blocking the brake, or onto your lap, interfering with the steering wheel. And honestly, they’re just so dang cute, you want to pet them and look at them and keep them from chewing on the radio knobs and all of a sudden you’re at a stop sign you didn’t see coming.
In some states, having a pet in the front seat is illegal, because it’s considered distracted driving. Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts laws say drivers can be ticketed if a dog in the front seat is causing a ruckus and diverting the driver’s attention from the road.
Sitting upright, especially for a longer ride, might not even be that comfortable for your dog. On longer journeys, dogs need as much comfort and support for their bods as we do. Outfitting your backseat with a harness or car seat and a favorite blanket is much more ideal for dogs than sitting upright the entire ride anyway.