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Driving with a pet

Pets and car insurance

Could taking your pet for a drive affect your car insurance? Our guide has everything you need to know about travelling with a pet

By Mehdi Punjwani

Published: 19 November 2019

Dog in the car

Are pets covered by car insurance?

If you’re involved in an accident while your dog or cat is in the car, they might have some coverage with car insurance – but car insurance alone is unlikely to give your pet all the protection you’d want.

With fully comprehensive car insurance, you will be protected against damage to your car or injury to yourself or other passengers while driving. However, while you might see your pet as another passenger, your insurer won’t.

Some comprehensive car insurance policies will protect any personal property you have in your car, and this may include pets. This could mean that if you pet dies because of a car accident, you could claim for its market value. However, your insurer is less likely to pay out for vet’s fees if your pet is injured.

If you plan on driving with a dog or cat in the car, you should consider taking out a separate pet insurance policy – that way, you can have the security of knowing that your pet is covered, wherever you go together.

What’s the law on pets travelling in cars?

While it’s perfectly legal to take your pet out on a drive, there are a few UK laws that you should know about before driving with a pet in your car.

The law says that your pet must be restrained at all times. It’s illegal to drive with an unrestrained pet in your car. This is because if your pet is allowed to move freely around your car, it could distract you and lead to an accident.

This is laid out in Rule 57 of the Highway Code, which states: ‘When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained’. While there’s no direct penalty for breaking the Highway Code, you can still be fined up to £5,000 for careless driving if the police pull you over with an unrestrained pet in your car.

Your pet can be restrained with a pet seatbelt or harness, kept in a crate or carrier, or protected with a guard if you’re travelling with your pet in the boot.

Remember that the law doesn’t only apply to dogs: cats must be restrained as well, and even rabbits, hamsters or guinea pigs could land you in trouble if they’re allowed to roam around freely in your car. Holding a small animal in your or a passenger’s hand doesn’t count – keep it caged at all times.

Since 2016, the law has also required every dog that goes outside to have a microchip and a collar with the owner’s name and address. This applies to all dogs older than eight weeks – even if your dog is on a lead or if it’s staying in the car throughout your journey. The only exception is if your vet can write a letter certifying that implanting a microchip would be dangerous to your dog’s health.

Can I drive with my dog in the front seat of my car?

It’s strongly recommended that you don’t drive with a dog in the front seat of your car. While the law only says that your pet must be securely restrained, it’s a much better idea to drive with your pet in the back seat or in the boot.

This is because if you’re involved in an accident, your pet is more likely to be injured if it’s in the front seat. Airbags in particular pose a risk to dogs: when activated, they can expand with enough force to severely injure or kill your pet.

If you do drive with a dog in the front seat, push the seat back as far as possible. Make sure your dog is securely restrained with a pet seatbelt or harness, and disable the airbag when your dog is in the car – just make sure it’s working again when you have human passengers.

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Could driving with a pet invalidate my car insurance?

Driving with an unrestrained pet in your car is illegal – but it can also invalidate your car insurance, costing you extra money if you’re involved in an accident.

This is because allowing an unrestrained dog or cat in your car may distract you while you’re driving. Distraction is a leading cause of car accidents – according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, up to 78% of car crashes are a result of drivers not paying attention to the road.

If you do need to make a claim on your car insurance, your provider will want to know what was happening while you were driving. If they discover that you were breaking the law by driving with an unrestrained pet, you’re likely to be denied coverage. Your claim may even be denied if the accident wasn’t your fault.

Our tips for travelling with a pet

Keeping your pet restrained prevents accidents and protects your insurance – but there are other ways to make sure your trip is trouble-free:

  • Plan ahead: Before you drive anywhere with your pet, make sure it’ll have everything it needs for the journey. Plenty of water is a must, along with snacks and maybe a toy for long journeys – but you should also have an animal first aid kit with bandages, cotton wool, scissors and tweezers in the car with you. Think about your pet’s individual requirements and how long the trip will be – a large dog on a long car journey will need a lot more snacks and water than a smaller animal on a shorter drive
  • Pre-trip preparations: Before setting off, encourage your pet to go to the toilet, and if it’s quite energetic, to have a quick run around. It’s a bad idea to give a pet a large meal just before going on a car journey, as this increases the risk of car-sickness. Feed it a light meal around two hours before driving, and bring plenty of small snacks if you’re going on a long journey
  • Reassure: While a car journey can be an enjoyable treat for dogs in particular, some dogs might find them stressful. If you’re driving with a dog in the boot, consider letting it travel with something that smells like you – a pillowcase or a piece of clothing, for instance. This lets your dog know that it’s not alone. Your pet might also learn to dislike car journeys if you only ever drive it to the vet, so try taking your dog or cat on recreational drives as well
  • Watch your windows: You should never have your windows completely open when there’s a pet in the car, as it may try to jump out. You also shouldn’t let a pet put its head out the window – as fun as it might be for your pet, there’s a serious risk of injury. It’s a good idea to keep the windows open a little to prevent overheating, though. You could also use window shades to keep your pets cool on hot days
  • Keep close: You should never leave your pet alone in a parked car, especially on a hot day. Even if you park in the shade or leave windows open, the temperature inside a parked car can be lethal to pets within minutes
  • Mind the road: Make sure your pet knows not to jump out of a car door as soon as it’s opened, as it may leap straight into traffic. Even if it’s well trained, it’s usually best to keep your pet on the passenger side of the car
  • Keep your pet restrained at all times: Remember: having an unrestrained pet in the car isn’t just dangerous – it’s illegal, and could invalidate your car insurance if you’re involved in an accident.

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