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Travelling with dogs in cars - a legal perspective


You may see articles on social media about the supposed penalties you could incur if you are caught travelling with an unrestrained dog in your car. These alarming posts frighten you by claiming that your vehicle insurance may be invalidated, you may incur a large fine if your dog is not restrained in a car, or you may get points on your licence for doing so.

These kind of headlines are highly misleading and are designed to encourage you to click on the story to find out what it says. This type of article online is known as ‘click bait’ and they are designed to put advertising on your social media feed where you have to scroll down and down and then you find out the actual story is rather mundane. A classic headline I saw recently ‘Shocking news about the Queen’ – when you scrolled down and down past all the adverts you actually found out that she had just  had a shorter haircut!  - the advertisers have caught you in their trap.

Dog harness

So back to the truth about travelling with dogs in cars. As a police officer when I studied for my criminal law exams many years ago, I learned about the legal difference in an exam question which might ask you; 'What MAY an officer do, what SHOULD and officer do, what MIGHT or what MUST...'. They mean quite different things in terms of the law.

The most recent 2022 edition of the Highway Code is set out to clearly allow you to see what is law and what is just guidance. Most people do not know that the Highway Code is nearly all guidance or suggestions. The areas of traffic law are set out clearly with the word MUST highlighted in bold, red letters, and under that section quotes the act and section of the law to which it applies. For example on a motorcycle a rider or passenger MUST wear a protective helmet, under the road traffic act. The guidance given for bicycle riders states that you SHOULD wear a helmet that complies with current regulations.  So it is not against any law to fail to wear a protective bicycle helmet.

So what does the Highway code say about dogs travelling in cars?

'When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier or dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars'.

Can you see any use of the word MUST?  Are there any laws relating to dogs in cars?  No there are not. This section of the Highway Code is guidance. But it would clearly be irresponsible not to make sure your dog is safe when travelling in your car and it is obviously the right thing to do to restrain them in some way as suggested above. 

So what about the headline that mentions losing your licence? Invalidating your insurance? Getting a fine? Well what it refers to is this -  IF you are involved in a road traffic accident, and IF it went to court, and then IF the judge or magistrate found evidence to prove that the cause of the accident was an unrestrained animal in your car that interfered with your driving so much that it CAUSED the accident – then a judge or magistrate MAY decide to invalidate your insurance, give you points or a fine for having an unrestrained dog in your car that caused you to have an accident.

Cages, crates, dog guards and doggy seat belts are all good ways of restraining your dog to be safe when travelling. 

It is NOT against the law to drive with an unrestrained dog in your car, but you wouldn’t want to risk it, you would want to do everything you could to make sure they are safe when they are in the car with you.


By NFDOG Member Sarah Morris. The views contained are Sarah's own, although others may of course agree!