We may be a nation of pet lovers, but let Fido run loose around your car while you are behind the wheel and you not only risk an accident, but you could also invalidate your insurance. It might seem obvious, but the only thing you should be concentrating on when you are driving is driving.
That means stroking a dog or cat, or trying to restrain it as it attempts to sit on your lap/lick your face/stick its head out of the window, should be avoided at all costs. The same goes for talking on your mobile, setting (or re-setting!) your satnav once you’re moving, or fiddling with the radio to try and find the station you want. In fact, if you have an accident and are discovered to have been doing anything that could have caused you to lose concentration and drive dangerously, animal-related or otherwise, your insurer is unlikely to pay out in the event of a claim.
Even if it does, it might not pay the full amount, leaving you out of pocket. Considering how strict the law is when it comes to texting or making a phone call from behind the wheel, it seems strange that there aren’t tighter rules in place when it comes to animals in cars. After all, you wouldn’t dream of letting a small child run around your car while you are behind the wheel, so the same rules should apply to pets.
Granted, they may not agree to sit nicely while restrained by a seatbelt, but it should be compulsory to fit a boot guard and buy the necessary crate/container to ensure they stay out of the way. Even if you own a soppy old Labrador that never does anything other than stick its head out of the window, you should take precautions. What if it were spooked by another animal on the pavement? How would it react if you were bumped from behind?
Crack the Code
Scour the Highway Code, and there are guidelines as to how a pet should be controlled in your car. Rule 57 states: "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, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars."
The importance of doing this cannot be underestimated - and I speak from experience. When moving home several years ago, and having failed to buy or borrow a crate in advance, we carefully put our cat into a cardboard box secured with rope (and plenty of holes for air). However, having never been in a car before, he went totally beserk as soon as we were underway, breaking his way out of the box with teeth and claws faster than David Blaine could escape from a straitjacket. He then proceeded to tear around the car hissing and howling until we could get off the A3 to restrain him, narrowly avoiding a crash in the process.
This highlights an important point – animals are unpredictable, and even if you have the most placid pet normally, being in a car may unnerve them and cause them to act completely differently, putting you and your car at risk.
If you are in any doubt about the insurance implications of having a pet roam freely in your car, talk to your provider. They will be able to tell you how your pet should be restrained so that it will be covered under your insurance, but even then it is likely to be treated only as ‘personal property’ in the event of an accident.
This means that if it were killed, you could at best expect to receive the market value of your pet. If your pet is injured in an accident, your car insurance policy is unlikely to cover any treatment it may need. However, if the accident was not your fault, the other driver should be responsible for covering any vet’s bills which might arise. If you want to ensure vet’s fees would be covered if your pet is injured in a car accident which you have caused, you will need to take out separate pet insurance.
Again you should always check with the provider as to exactly what is and isn’t covered with regard to transporting your pet, as policies vary widely.