Several years ago, I was in a car accident. It wasn’t my fault. My injuries weren’t that serious. But working out compensation and resolution took on a life of its own, a years-long process (about which I’ll say more in future posts) that was life-changing and eye-opening. I got a thorough education in everything from lidar devices to police procedure to jury selection to the Los Angeles civil court systems to auto insurance to personal perseverance.
I often wondered how and what would have been different if Maggie or any of her canine friends had been in the car with me that day. Would she have been okay? In the car – and that’s a lot because we live in Los Angeles – Maggie always wore a harness that’s advertised on the company’s website as crash-tested, so I assumed that each time I snapped her harness in the car, she was somehow ‘safer’.
But was she really safer?
With the car accident finally reaching a resolution, I decided to find out what ‘vehicle safety’ meant for traveling with our pets.
There are multiple harnesses on the market that claim to have safety features for car travel or claim to have been crash-tested for safety ratings. When you see a pet harness promoted in this way, you want to believe that the harness is safe.
But what evidence and data is there to substantiate these claims?
The Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit research and advocacy organization dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety, ran an independent safety test of vehicle harnesses and crates using small, medium, and large crash-test-dummy dogs. The two-phase study consisted of a preliminary static test which measured the load-bearing capacity of the harness straps, then – only if the harness passed the first phase – the harness was subjected to a test crash simulated a head-on impact at 30mph.
The CPS videoed and made public all of their tests. Preliminary tests can be seen here. You’ll notice that a number of name-brand entries don’t even make it past this phase, brands of products your may own in your own home for your pet.
The actual crash-test videos, which you can watch here and right below, aren’t for animal lovers with weak stomachs. The results are mostly horrifying, especially if you consider that that dummy dog could be your actual dog in real life. Of the 11 harnesses that made it to this round of testing, only one provided sufficient protection to the dog from crash forces.
Kurgo car harness video:
One. Only one harness could be certified as ‘safe’ by the CPS. Some of the harnesses earned the rating ‘catastrophic failure’, with tests like this one and posted above (which comes from a company that makes some really nice dog products). What’s especially alarming is that these harnesses are marketed as devices that keep your pet safe in a vehicle.
The only harness that passed the two rounds of testing was the SleepyPodClickit Utility. In the crash, the harness provided sufficient restraint to keep the crash-dummy dog in the seat, much like a human seat belt would function.
And like human seat belts, safety devices only work when you use them. We’re all safety-minded when it comes to our pets but that sometimes conflicts with the reality that we’re rushing out the door with our dogs in tow, running behind schedule, trying to avoid traffic, whatever. This is the last time you want to be dealing with straps and harnesses and wriggly dogs. A safety pet harness has to be easy to use or else the plain truth is, we’re not going to use it every time, every ride.
When Maggie and I first got our SleepyPod harness, I spent several minutes making the first adjustments, using the SleepyPod video as a guide to get the harness to a correct fit. Once I’d made those adjustments, the SleepyPod is actually easier to use than my previous harness. Strapping Maggie in the car is simple: slide the seatbelt under the two straps, which can even be done very quickly when you’re in a rush. When the harness is in place, Maggie is able to sit up and lie down comfortably on the seat.
If you currently use a harness in the car, I urge you to look at the CPS videos and see how your harness ranks and if you’re okay with how it performs in a crash.
No matter how carefully you drive, accidents can happen. We have safety laws in place to protect children in cars; while there are no laws on dogs in vehicles, the same forces will impact them in a crash. So many things can go wrong on the road: people text, they run red lights, drivers stop short, cars break down. You want your pets to be as protected as possible in these situations.
An unrestrained 10-lb dog in a 50 mph crash will exert about 500 lbs of force. What this means is that if your dog is not secured in the car they may not only get hurt themselves but could easily cause harm to others in the car such as yourself or your children or other passengers.
Note, the SleepyPod harness is fit for dogs over 15lbs, if you’re dog is under 15lbs you should consider one of their carriers, they have a few types. You can see the safety test videos of these as well!
Pictured here is the Pod style one, don’t worry Maggie never travels positioned like this but decided to pose like this for a photo…always wants to ham it up. When traveling your pet should be safely zipped inside.
It’s simple – a protected pet keeps everyone safer.
Also, remember that, in the car, pets can be distracting. In fact, 31% of all car accidents involving pets occur when drivers are distracted by their animals.
One last thing: Your pet should be riding in the back seat. We don’t allow children in the front seat due to the force of an airbag exploding – if that was your dog, they may survive the actual impact but the force of the airbag could be very harmful.
Safe travels from Nicole and Maggie.
[Note: I limited the scope of this post to harnesses, but crates are another option for vehicle travel. The CPS also had has tested crates, and the results can be seen on their website. You might look into whether crating is a better option for you and your pet, and use their testing as a guide.]