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Is It Illegal for a Dog to Sit in the Front Seat of a Car?


For many different reasons, lots of people consider having their beloved pooch ride along with them in the front seat of their vehicle. Depending on where you are located, there is different legislation dictating if this arrangement is acceptable or not in the eyes of the law. Just like how we look into ways to protect our car door from scratches from our dogs, we want to protect our dogs from the dangers of the road when riding with us.

Similar to how you may put a SLiPLO Universal Bumper Scrape Guard on your car to protect your paint from rock chips on the road, the laws regarding pets in vehicles are in place for protection purposes. They are to protect not only your dog, but also yourself and other drivers on the road. The following goes over the most common laws that you should know if you let your dog ride shotgun, as well as considerations to keep your dog safe:

Restraint Laws

Some states have laws that require you to have your dog restrained, sometimes in a particular way. This could mean anything from only allowing pets to be transported in your vehicle if they are crated, to allowing your dog to sit in any seat so long as they have a seat belt harness.

New Jersey’s laws, for example, state that pets in a moving vehicle must be secured in a carrier or a seatbelt. Rhode Island’s laws are a little bit more relaxed and just state that your dog must be under the physical control of another person or restrained in a crate, harness, or seatbelt. On the other hand, if you are in Los Angeles and are wondering if your dog has to be crated, you will be surprised to know that California law permits pets to be completely unrestrained.  

Distracted Driving Laws

Even if there are no restraint laws where you are, like how it is in California, you still are at risk of getting a citation or fine under distracted driving laws. In fact, some distracted driving laws are actually specific to pets in vehicles. One of the most common state laws regarding distracted driving due to pets are laws that disallow animals from being on a person’s lap in a vehicle, particularly drivers. This law makes sense, since having even the most well-behaved dog on your lap can become a distraction! These laws prohibiting your dog from riding in your lap exist in many states including Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

These laws do not always only talk about pets being in your lap. Some, like the law in Hawaii and Massachusetts, also say that your dog can not be in the immediate area of the driver and at risk of interfering with the control devices of the vehicle. Lastly, most states will leave it up to the police officer’s discretion if you’re driving while distracted. This means that if you have an unruly pup in your front seat, even if there are no specific laws saying they can’t be there, you may get hit with a fine or citation anyways.

Another example of something that may be considered distracted driving and lead to a citation is interacting with your dog while you are driving. While many states leave this up to the officer, Washington DC law actually stipulates that “interacting with a pet” is a moving violation and results in a monetary fine.

Animal Cruelty Laws

When loading up your vehicle for a nice long road trip with your dog, the last thing you likely think about is animal cruelty laws, but these laws often have sections about car rides. Just like how you may want to protect your vehicle's door sill from your pet’s claws with something like a Universal Door Sill Protector DIY kit, you are going to want to take as many protectionary measures as possible to keep your dog safe.

The sections of animal cruelty laws that apply to bringing pets along with you on a drive all differ depending on which state you live in. The most common laws prohibit drivers from carrying or confining pets in a cruel manner. This law exists in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Ohio. It should be noted that these laws do not clearly lay out what is considered cruel when it comes to how a pet is carried or confined. Alabama’s law is even more vague and allows police officers to use their discretion if they think the arrangement endangers an animal’s welfare.

Other Considerations

There is a reason that people call dogs man’s best friend! They are wonderful creatures who show us their unconditional love and loyalty. In return, we have to protect them and make sure they are healthy and safe. Unlike getting car door jamb guards for pets[AM1] , protecting your pet from the dangers of riding in a vehicle is not as straightforward.  

Regardless of the laws in your area concerning if your dog can sit in the front seat, you should be most cautious about your vehicle’s airbags. The inflation system for your vehicle’s airbags inflate at speeds close to 200 miles per hour and then deflate, all in 1/25th of a second. This is designed for adult passengers, and both children and dogs are not safe to be in the front seat if there is an active airbag system.

The way your dog is restrained also must be considered carefully. You will want to think about the size of your dog, the type of vehicle you have and how much room it has, your dog’s behavior, as well as the amount of money you have that can be used to ensure your dog’s safety. If your vehicle does not have an active passenger airbag and your dog is very relaxed during car rides, he can likely do well with a little seatbelt harness. Alternatively, if your pooch gets a little bit too excited, it may be a better idea to have him in a more secure restraint so that he doesn’t end up causing an accident.

Being able to bring your dog with you where ever you go is great. With these suggestions, you can do so without worrying about breaking the law!

After taking your pooch for a ride, it's time to protect your car. For information on the features, benefits, and pricing of skid plates, click here, alternatively, use our interactive map to find an authorized installer near you. If you enjoyed this article, check out our blog.