Does Your State Require Dogs to Wear a Seat Belt?

Traveling with an unrestrained dog could leave drivers in the United Kingdom with a huge fine and an even bigger car insurance problem. How do laws in the United States compare? It depends on where in the country you live.
Kerry Lengyel
Published: November 22, 2017
Animal protection laws vary widely around the world — from trapping regulations to cat declawing to the transportation of animals. When it comes to driving with pets, there isn’t one law that applies throughout the country. But most pet owners may not be aware of the handful of states that do have laws against unrestrained pets in vehicles.

In the United Kingdom, drivers face a fine of 5,000 euros if they are caught riding with their pets unrestrained, along with a potential leap in car insurance payments. And if UK drivers get into an accident while their furry friend is not suitably restrained, insurance providers may not even pay out.

The reason? Pets may distract or cause injury to the driver, or they may become injured themselves, if the driver slams on the brakes too quickly or the car is involved in an accident.

While the majority of the US states do not have strict rules such as these against driving with unrestrained pets, laws in some states do measure up to UK regulations.

Connecticut
  • No law explicitly requires dogs to wear seat belts, but drivers may be charged under distracted-driving laws if they drive with a pet in their lap.
  • Dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a cage or secured to prevent them from being thrown from the vehicle.

Hawaii
  • There is no law explicitly requiring dogs to wear seat belts, but drivers may be charged under obstruction to driver’s view or driving mechanism laws if they drive with a pet in their lap.

Maine
  • No law explicitly requires dogs to wear seat belts, but drivers may be charged under distracted-driving laws if they drive with a pet in their lap.
  • Dogs being transported in an open portion of a vehicle on a public road must be protected in a manner that prevents the dog from being thrown from the vehicle.

Massachusetts
  • While there is no law explicitly requiring dogs to wear seat belts, this section could prevent a dog from riding in the driver’s lap or unrestrained in the vehicle: “No person, when operating a motor vehicle, shall permit to be on or in the vehicle or on or about his person anything which may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle or any equipment by which the vehicle is operator or controlled."
  • Dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be in a cage or secured to prevent them from being thrown from the vehicle.
  • Transporting any live animals in an “unnecessarily cruel or inhumane manner” could result in a fine or jail time, but the law does not state what would classify transportation as “inhumane.”

Minnesota
  • There is no law explicitly requiring dogs to wear seat belts, but if a dog is not suitably restrained in an open truck bed, the driver can be charged with a misdemeanor.

New Hampshire
  • No law explicitly requires dogs to wear seat belts, but dogs being transported in an open truck bed must be restrained properly.

New Jersey
  • Seat belts are required for dogs not secured in a crate within a moving vehicle, and failure to comply means drivers can face a fine of $250 to $1000.

North Dakota
  • No law has explicit language requiring dogs to wear seat belts, but transporting any live animals without suitable carrying containers constitutes cruelty to animals.

Rhode Island
  • Dogs being transported are required to be restrained by crates, harnesses, seat belts, or the physical control of a person other than the driver, and violations of this law carry a fine of up to $200.


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