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Pets and car insurance

Does car insurance cover driving with pets?

published: 05 October 2021
Read time: 5 minutes

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

Does car insurance cover me for driving with pets in my car?

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. Your claim is also likely to be rejected if your pet was not restrained at the time of the accident, in accordance with the Highway Code.

Even if it’s restrained, your car insurer is also unlikely to pay for any veterinary bills you incur because your pet was injured while travelling in your car. If you plan on driving with a dog or cat in the car, you should therefore consider taking out a separate pet insurance policy that covers emergency treatment due to accidents – that way, you can have the security of knowing that your pet is covered, wherever you go together.

What will car insurance cover me for?

With fully comprehensive car insurance, you will be protected against damage to your car or injury to yourself or other passengers while driving. However, your insurer may not define your pet as a ‘passenger’.

Some comprehensive car insurance policies will protect any personal property you have in your car, and this may include pets. 

So if, for example, your pet dies in a car accident, you could potentially make a claim for its market value. However, you probably won’t be able to make a claim for any resulting costs if your pet is injured or passes away after veterinary treatment.

If your car is damaged by an animal – for example due to a collision with a deer – you will usually be able to claim under the accidental damage section of your car insurance. 

However, if you hit a domestic animal such as a dog, the resulting costs will generally be the owner’s responsibility – another good reason to take out pet insurance for your four-legged friends.

Will my insurance be invalidated if I drive with a pet or animal?

Most insurance policies allow you to have a dog, cat, or other domestic animal such as a rabbit in the car with you while driving. However, driving with an unrestrained pet in your car is illegal and can invalidate your car insurance, costing you extra money if you’re involved in an accident.

This is because having an unrestrained animal in your car could distract you and cause you to be involved in a car crash as a result.

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

Dog in the car

What are the laws for driving with pets or animals in the car?

Rule 57 of the Highway Code states: ‘When in a vehicle, make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained’. If you are found to be breaking this rule, you could be fined up to £5,000 for careless driving.

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 also requires 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 is 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.

If you want to take your pet with you on an overseas road trip, it will also need a pet passport as well as a valid rabies vaccination. You can find out more about travelling overseas with a dog, cat, or ferret on the government website.

Can I drive with my dog in the front seat?

Where possible, it’s not a good idea to drive with a dog – or any other animal – in the front seat of your car. The boot or the back seat is a much better place for a pet, even though the law only says that your pet must be securely restrained, not where it should sit.

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.

When should I not travel with my pet?

Being in a car can be stressful for your pet. So it’s a good idea to take them on a few short trips before attempting a longer journey. The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs also recommends avoiding travelling with an animal that is:

  • Seriously ill or injured

  • Newly born – especially when not accompanied by the mother

  • Pregnant and approaching the due date

  • A new mother (has given birth in the last 48 hours)

Tips for driving with a pet in the car

Keeping your pet restrained prevents accidents and protects your insurance.  Other ways to make travelling with pets stress free include:

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

Travelling with pets in your car during hot weather

Even on a realtively cool and overcast day, the temperature in a car can rise very quickly. Animals often suffer more than humans in hot conditions; dogs, for example, only have a few sweat glands on their paws and can therefore succumb to heatstroke much faster than a human would. 

To protect your pet, it’s therefore important not to leave it in a car or caravan – especially not for an extended period of time. When you are travelling with a pet on hot days, you should also:

  • Use the air conditioning to keep the air termperature at a comfortable level

  • Put your pet in a shaded area of the car where possible

  • Apply pet sunscreen if your pet is in the sun

  • Take reglar breaks and give your pet plenty of water when you stop

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