Pet ownership and pet travel are on the rise! According to the 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 85 million U.S. families own a pet, a 56% increase from 10 years ago. And 37% of pet owners travel with their pets every year – up from 19% a decade ago. In response to these growing trends, more states are considering pet car restraint laws.

Golden Retriever dog with his head out the window of a car where state requires pets to be restrained



Why We Need Pet Car Restraint Laws

Studies have shown that less than 20% of pet owners buckle up their furry companions when they travel. That translates into tens of millions of pets riding unrestrained in vehicles! Not only is this life threatening for the pets, it’s dangerous for their families and everyone else on the road.

Consider that, in a collision at 50 mph, an unrestrained 10-pound dog will create an impact with about 500 pounds of force. That’s more than enough to do serious damage to a human and the dog. Now, just imagine the injuries a dog Buster’s size could inflict in an accident!

READ MORE ⇒  Why We Chose Sleepypod Car Harnesses for Our Dogs

Buster in Sleepypod Harness

States Requiring Pets to be Restrained in Vehicles

Restraining pets is the best way to keep them, your family, and everyone else on the road safe. More states are exploring pet car restraint laws, but currently only New Jersey and Rhode Island require pets to buckle up.

New Jersey

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

Rhode Island

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


READ MORE ⇒  Is It Illegal to Leave Pets Alone in a Vehicle?

Ty in Sleepypod Click-It Harness |


Pets Causing Distractions in Cars

Although the following states don’t require pets to be restrained, they have enacted laws that could provide consequences for transporting unrestrained pets.


Arizona drivers can be charged under distracted driving laws if they drive with an animal in their lap, or if a police officer determines the transportation method creates an unsafe situation.


Connecticut’s drivers can be charged under distracted driving laws if they drive with a pet in their lap. 


In Hawaii, drivers cannot hold in their lap, or allow to be in their immediate area, any person, animal, or object which interferes with their control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.


In Iowa, driving with an obstructed view is an operating violation that may carry a fine. And certainly having a pet on your lap could obstruct your view.


Drivers in Maine risk violating distracted-driving laws if they drive with a pet in their lap. 


In Massachusetts, it is unlawful for drivers to allow anything on or in the vehicle which might interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle. Certainly, having a pet on your lap could violate this law.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, drivers risk a ticket for negligence or another offense when driving with a pet in their lap, if an officer considers the situation unsafe.


Washington’s distracted driver statute doesn’t specifically mention unrestrained pets. However, lawmakers and police officers have mentioned having a loose pet or one riding on the driver’s lap as a potential distraction — one that may be considered a secondary violation if a driver is pulled over for another reason — but would not be enough to initiate a traffic stop.

Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.’s distracted driving law specifically mentions “interacting with pets” as a distraction that can result in a moving violation. The fine for a first offense is $100.


In Wisconsin, driving with a pet on your lap violates the inattentive driving law.



Ambiguous State Laws Dealing With Pet Transportation


Alabama’s animal cruelty laws may be invoked if a police officer determines the manner of transporting a pet violates animal welfare laws or endangers the pet.


Mississippi makes it a misdemeanor to “carry or confine in a cruel manner,” which could apply to transporting a pet without proper attention to safety.


Ohio’s current cruelty to animals laws state that no person shall carry or convey an animal in a cruel or inhumane manner.


Oklahoma’s cruelty to animals statutes state that it is a misdemeanor to carry an animal in a vehicle in a cruel or inhumane manner.


Tennessee’s cruelty to animals statues make it illegal to transport or confine an animal in a cruel manner.


The disorderly conduct laws in Texas state that it is an offense to transport or confine an animal in a cruel manner.


Under Utah’s anti-cruelty provisions, it is illegal to transport or confine an animal in a cruel manner.


Vermont’s animal health regulations and animal transportation prohibit transporting any animal in a cruel or inhumane manner.


Virginia’s laws require that owners provide adequate care for companion animals during transportation.


Washington’s animal cruelty laws make it a misdemeanor to transport animals in a way that would pose a risk to the animal or public safety.


Wisconsin’s crimes against animals statutes make it illegal to transport an animal in or on a vehicle in a cruel manner.


READ MORE ⇒  How To Take A Cross-Country Road Trip With Pets


Possible Insurance Claim Denial

Beyond possible injuries and potential fines, there are additional consequences to consider when traveling with an unsecured pet. If you have an accident, and you did something that led to or caused it, your insurance company might deny your claim. Receiving a citation related to pet car restraint laws could give your insurance company cause to deny your claim. On top of any physical and emotional trauma, this situation could be financially devastating.



States Regulate Transportation of Pets in Open-Bed Trucks

Transporting a pet in the open bed of a truck is a disaster waiting to happen. Not only do pets fall out and get injured, but in an collision they have absolutely no protection. In addition, exposure to the weather can lead to heat exhaustion or hypothermia. And, in the sun, the floor can become hot enough to burn the pet’s paws.

The following states also make carrying unsecured animals in an open truck bed illegal:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Oregon
  • Washington


Making sure you all come home together is the most important part of pet travel. We hope that understanding the state pet car restraint laws encourages you to buckle up your pets when you hit the road!


Gear Used in This Post:
(Affiliate Links)

Alcott Martingale Collar

Alcott Weekender Leash

Sleepypod Clickit Car Safety Harness


Visit our Amazon store to learn about more products we rely on to make traveling with pets easier, safer, and more fun!

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for website owners to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,, and any other website that may be affiliated with Amazon Service LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, the owner of this site earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

(Visited 66,450 times, 1 visits today)
    • Hi JG! To my knowledge, no company is specifically making crash-tested restraint harnesses for cats … yet! Right now, your best harness option would be one made for small dogs – which I know is not ideal. Otherwise, a secured carrier in your car is probably the safest way to travel with your cat. Wishing you safe and happy adventures!

      • I have a cat seat belt that secures to the passenger front seat. Believe me it holds a cat in place very well and comfortably. Google it and see the results.