Safe Travels with Your Dog: What You Need to Know About Driving with Your Dog and What to Do if You Have Been Injured in an Accident with a Pet

Legal Considerations When Driving With Your Dog in New Jersey

Americans are known worldwide for being animal lovers. Two-thirds of households in the U.S. have pets, and 65.1 million of those are dog owners.  Despite the annual costs of approximately $4,200, dog owners proudly invest in their pets and treat them as family members.  47% of dog owners live in rural areas, 32% in the suburbs, and 21% in the cities.  In a recent Pew Survey, almost half of all dog owners consider their pets to be as important as the human members of their family.  The survey found that pet owners are willing to spend up to 15% of their income on their dogs to provide training, food, clothes, and babysitting services while they work or go out of town.  The average household spends $1,833 annually on their dog, excluding veterinary care.

Not only do Americans love their pets, but they also frequently ride with them in the car. The desire to bring their pets everywhere, whether it is for visits to the dog park, running errands, or grabbing coffee with a friend at a pet-friendly spot on a Saturday morning, is a common reason dogs ride with their owners. These four-legged family members provide companionship and comfort; their special, unconditional love melts the hearts of those who love and live with them. However, driving with a dog in the vehicle can also be a major source of accidents that lead to serious injuries for those involved, particularly when safety measures have not be properly taken by the driver who brought their pet with them on the road.

New Jersey’s Legal Requirements for Transporting Dogs in Vehicles

If a dog is in a vehicle, it must be in a crate or tethered to a seatbelt with a harness or in a pet crate.  It is always fun to watch a dog happily ride with its furry face hanging out the window, feeling the breeze, not a care in the world, but the safety of the pet, passengers, and other motorists is at risk if the proper measures are not taken.  Owners sometimes allow their smaller dogs to ride in their laps, which is also a hazard.

Top Restraint Methods to Secure Pets in Cars

Rest assured, there are recommended methods to restrain your dog in a vehicle that ensures everyone’s safety. A car harness or seatbelt is an easy, inexpensive way to keep your pet safe as you travel.  It fits similarly to a regular leash harness but is constructed to withstand the impact of an accident.  The harness should be padded to protect the dog’s chest and the tether should be as short as possible to keep the dog from moving around the car.  The best harnesses are those that fit the dog snugly and have been proven in crash tests, providing you with the confidence that your pet is secure.

Pet crates or kennels are also safe ways to transport a dog by car.  Smaller crates can fit in the backseat and should be tethered to the seatbelt to reduce injury in case of an accident.  Larger SUVs can carry larger kennels in the cargo area.  Dog kennels and crates should never be placed in the trunk of a car, no matter how brief the trip.

Dog car seats resemble seatbelt harnesses but provide a small, open doggy bed. They are for smaller dogs and have weight limits to ensure safety and proper use. The seat attaches to the seatbelt and has a harness the dog wears with a very short tether to allow some movement.

Car barriers can keep larger dogs contained in one part of the car. Typically used in larger cars, these rigid, metal, or plastic gates prevent a dog from distracting the driver and moving around the car.  Gates do not provide much protection in terms of crash safety, such as a tether or a crate.

The Hidden Dangers of Having Your Dog Loose in the Car

There are several hazards of having unrestrained pets in the car that can cause an accident.  According to AAA, 17% of New Jersey drivers admitted allowing their dog to ride in their lap in the driver’s seat.  Dogs that paw or lick the driver can be a distraction.  An unrestrained dog can block the visibility of mirrors and windows, step on the gearshift, and press buttons that control the windows, door locks, or instruments on the dash.

How Unrestrained Dogs Can Dangerously Distract Drivers

Distracted driving has been named as the number one cause of car accidents.  Having a loose dog in the car is a major distraction.  Wanting to soothe or pet the dog while driving, preventing it from jumping out of a window or having an aggressive outburst at the sight of another dog, can cause a significant distraction.  Small pets crawling by the accelerator or brake can cause a serious hazard.  Driving safely is difficult enough without the extra distraction of a four-legged family member drooling on the steering wheel.

Penalties For Violating NJ Law on Transporting Dogs in Vehicles

Filing a Lawsuit after an Accident Involving a Pet in the Car in NJ

New Jersey’s pet restraint law is labeled as a cruelty to animals offense and as a disorderly persons offense carries a fine of $250 to $1,000 or 6 months in jail, or both.  The court can also mandate community service hours. Repeated violations or incidents that cause harm to animals can bring a 4th degree charge, which carries a jail sentence of up to 18 months and a fine of up to $10,000.

Can an Unrestrained Dog Lead to a Lawsuit for the Driver in NJ?

If a driver causes an accident due to distracted driving and has an unrestrained dog in the car, they can be held responsible for the injuries caused. 

Can You Sue a Driver for Causing an Accident while Driving with their Pet in New Jersey?

Having an unrestrained dog in a moving vehicle is negligent, distracted driving.  New Jersey has a “no-fault” car insurance system, meaning that damages are paid despite who is to blame for the accident.  This does not mean that you will receive a full recovery of your expenses.  Suppose the coverage is insufficient for your medical bills, lost wages, property damage, and other necessary treatments. In that case, you have two years from your accident to file a personal injury claim against the person at fault.

Discuss Your New Jersey Car Accident Caused by an Unrestrained Pet with Cohen & Riechelson

When you have been injured in a car accident, you are under physical and mental duress.  As you receive treatment for your injuries, your concerns about medical costs and how you will continue to support yourself economically weigh you down.  You need someone to assemble a solid case while you rest and recover.

Our attorneys are bloodhounds in the legal system.  We will build your case with our expert witnesses, conduct interviews, gather the necessary medical support for your injuries, and address the facts of your case backed up with witnesses and physical evidence. We’ve successfully represented clients in car accidents throughout Mercer County, Middlesex County, Burlington County, and New Jersey, including in Trenton, West Windsor, Hamilton, Princeton, Titusville, and surrounding areas.

If you or someone you know would like to know more about the legal avenues and compensation options that may be available after being involved in an accident involving an unrestrained pet, call us today at (609) 528-2596 or contact us online for a free consultation.