Understanding Pet Car Restraint Laws

Dog With Harness Buckled To A Car Safety Belt.

As more and more pet owners are hitting the road with their dogs and other pets, understanding the laws governing pet travel is crucial. This article explores pet car restraint laws across various U.S. states. The information is may help you maintain the safety of your pets and avoid any legal ramifications.

The Rising Trend of Pet Travel

According to the 2023-2024 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 66% of U.S. households own a dog or other pet, equating about 87 million households. A survey by Hilton in 2022 revealed that 55% of pet owners respondents planned to travel with their pets in the coming year. In response to this growing trend, some states have implemented pet car restraint laws to ensure everyone’s safety, including our four-legged friends.

The Need for Pet Car Restraint Laws

Research indicates that more than 80% of pet owners do not secure their pets when traveling. This lack of safety measures puts millions of pets at risk, posing significant dangers to them, their families, and other road users.

Consider the impact of a collision at 50 miles per hour. An unrestrained 20-pound dog would hit the dashboard, seat, or another passenger as a projectile with about 1000 pounds of force. This force is enough to cause severe damage to both the human and the dog. It doesn’t take too much imagination to grasp the potential injuries a heavier dog could inflict in an accident.

The Risk of Unsecured Pets: Insurance Claim Denial

Beyond the risk of injuries and legal consequences, unsecured pets in vehicles can lead to insurance claim denials. If an accident occurs and you contributed to it (for example, you received a citation related to pet car restraint laws), your insurance company might refuse to cover your claim. This situation could lead to financial devastation on top of the physical and emotional trauma.

States with Specific Pet Restraint Laws

Currently, there is no federal law mandating pets to be restrained in vehicles. Of the 50 U.S. states, only Rhode Island, Hawaii, and New Jersey have specific laws requiring dogs to be secured in the car.


Hawaii’s pet car restraint law prohibits drivers from holding an animal in their lap or allowing it to be in the driver’s immediate area, which could interfere with the “driver’s control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.” Fines are $97 for driving with a dog in your lap and $57 for having a pet loose in a moving vehicle.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s pet car restraint law necessitates pets to be under the physical control of a person other than the driver or be restrained by crates, harnesses, or seat belts. Violations of this law carry fines up to $200.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, pets in moving vehicles must ride in a carrier or wear a seat belt. Failure to comply can result in a fine of $250 to $1000.

Hawaii, Rhode Island, and New Jersey lead the way as far as dealing with this threat to safety. Other states should follow because this is a relevant concern with serious implications for human and pet safety. If more states follow, it will contribute to the awareness of drivers who might travel with a dog or other pet. Ideally this will lead to fewer injuries and deaths on the roads. Pets deserve to be transported safely, as do humans. With the right laws enacted and public education provided, many potential problems can be mitigated as far as driving with pets and the risks involved. We encourage our readers to reach out to the representatives and public safety officials in your state to request legislation designed to address operating vehicles that are transporting pets.

States with Distracted Driver Laws

Even in states without specific pet restraint laws, drivers can still receive a ticket for distracted driving if their pets are unsecured and they are pulled over or involved in an accident. States with such laws include Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin.

Ambiguous State Laws on Pet Transportation

Several states, including Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, have laws that could potentially apply to unrestrained pets in vehicles.

State Laws Regarding Transportation of Pets in Pickup or Open-Bed Trucks

Transporting a pet in the open bed of a truck can be extremely dangerous. Not only can pets fall out and get injured or worse, but they also lack protection in a collision. In addition, exposure to weather can lead to heat exhaustion or hypothermia, and the floor can become hot enough to burn a pet’s paws. States that prohibit carrying unsecured animals in an open truck bed include Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Washington.

Creating a Better Future for Pet Safety

Education and legislation are desperately needed to reduce the deaths and injuries that arise from transporting pets in vehicles. An unsecured dog or other pet is a major risk factor while driving, and this can have consequences for the driver, passengers, pets and others that share the road. Helping the pet owners understand the potential of their choices is key to increasing the safety of pets and humans. We hope to see more states take action in the future. Until then, we must all do our part to educate others and advocate for governmental change.