Dogs should ride “shotgun” (or at least be properly secured if they cannot): vehicle safety for dogs in California

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Dog in pickup: unrestrained. Photo courtesy of  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ddebold/3181259772/, Creative Commons.

Dog in pickup: unrestrained. Photo courtesy of Don DeBold, Creative Commons.

It’s something we see in the city and in rural areas: dogs riding in the back of a pick-up truck, unrestrained in any manner. Dogs have been known to jump out of the vehicle and injure themselves or worse when traveling in this manner. Dogs need to be transported safely, especially if they are riding in the back of a pick-up truck. Ideally, all dogs should ride “shotgun” (in the cab of the vehicle, instead of the pick-up bed). This article considers vehicle safety for dogs in California and the laws that are in place to protect our furry family members.

Restraining your dog

If your dog must travel in the back of the truck instead of riding shotgun, it is important that they are restrained in a safe way. If you tether your dog, but the tether is too long, your dog could injure himself by attempting to jump out and hanging himself as a result. Simple tethers can also cause neck injury: sudden jolts to the neck can damage the trachea and thyroid glands. Special harnesses can reduce injury, but they must be a correct length, and do remember that your dog is still exposed to the weather and blowing debris that can harm eyes and ears. But as the City of Long Beach, CA website explains, even these restraints are not safe: “there have been cases where dogs restrained by leashes or harnesses have been strangled or dragged after being thrown from a truck bed.”

A "dog box" used to secure dogs in the bed of a pick-up truck. Photo courtesy of crowdive, Creative Commons.

A “dog box” used to secure dogs in the bed of a pick-up truck. Photo courtesy of crowdive, Creative Commons.

A custom dog box made for the bed of a pick-up truck. Photo courtesy of ytwhitelight, Creative Commons.

A custom dog box made for the bed of a pick-up truck. Photo courtesy of ytwhitelight, Creative Commons.

A safer option is to safely secure a crate or “dog box” to the bed of the truck for your dog. Consider choosing a crate that is as enclosed as possible, to protect your dog from windchill and blowing debris (that could harm eyes and ears), while providing enough ventilation and shade for hot days. There are very specialized dog boxes available as well.

And remember to consider weather conditions too. Despite the crate or dog box, your dog is still susceptible to windchill or heat stroke during more extreme weather patterns. Check these factors before you get on the road to keep your best friend safe and healthy.

Laws to protect animals: but are they enforced?

As of 2009, eight states (including California), have laws to protect dogs and other animals transported the back of a pickup. Fines can run anywhere from $50 to $200, according to this site. The wording from the California DMV handbook is as follows:

Do not transport animals in the back of a pickup or other truck unless the animal is properly secured.

And more specifically, California Motor Vehicle code 23117 states (bold face added by this site):

23117. (a) No person driving a motor vehicle shall transport any animal in the back of the vehicle in a space intended for any load on the vehicle on a highway unless the space is enclosed or has side and tail racks to a height of at least 46 inches extending vertically from the floor, the vehicle has installed means of preventing the animal from being discharged, or the animal is cross tethered to the vehicle, or is protected by a secured container or cage, in a manner which will prevent the animal from being thrown, falling, or jumping from the vehicle.

(b) This section does not apply to any of the following:

(1) The transportation of livestock.

(2) The transportation of a dog whose owner either owns or is employed by a ranching or farming operation who is traveling on a road in a rural area or who is traveling to and from a livestock auction.

(3) The transportation of a dog for purposes associated with ranching or farming.

V C Section 23117 Carrying Animal in Motor Truck

Reporting an infraction

It is great that there are laws in place to help protect dogs, but are they ever enforced? Due to the number of dogs we see riding in open truck beds, it’s possible many communities do not prioritize this offense. This article on examiner.com spoke with local authorities about the process for reporting a vehicle who is breaking the law by transporting dogs in the back of a cab. Animal control officers in this town are not able to pull over a vehicle for this infraction, but they can approach the driver if he or she stops of their own volition. The Examiner.com post details a response from Animal Control for the Apple Valley, CA community:

The availability of a Sheriff’s Deputy would depend on their pending priority calls. If a deputy was not immediately available, the ACO would continue the investigation by contacting the identified party at home or when he/she has stopped the vehicle. … When asked what a citizen should do who witnesses an unrestrained animal in the back of a moving vehicle, she suggested, “Store your local Animal Control phone number in your cell phone and report observed violations as soon as possible. Provide as much detail as you can on the vehicle, driver, animals, location and direction of travel. If a citizen is willing to get involved, a third party citation can be issued. Infractions require that the violation be committed in the presence of the officer.”

In order to report an infraction, you will need to understand how your community handles citations and what to do when you witness an unsecured dog in a moving vehicle. Follow the advice your animal control (or police) officers provide, but keep in mind your report is probably “prioritized” and might not be acted upon. Local activism can help prioritize this issue in your community with officials, such as your local law enforcement. It can also help influence the people committing the crime: knowing that there is a greater chance they could be reported to the police or animal control, you may see fewer dogs transported unsecured as a result.

And always remember to remain safe when collecting evidence. For example, do not try to approach the driver yourself, and follow the rules of the road (which may ban cell phone use, as in California). Stop driving before you use your cell phone to report an infraction.

Blog hop!

blogger-awareness-dayInterested in learning more about transporting pets in vehicles and vehicle safety for dogs – from restraint products to local advocacy and laws? Check out some of the other blogs on our Pet blogger Awareness Day blog hop! Want to participate in this or future blog hops? Join our Google+ Community of Dog Bloggers here.



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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. She likes to support local and national efforts for animal welfare and advocacy. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • http://twitter.com/TheFurMom Kimberly Gauthier

    I do know that some cops in my area do pull people over for having dogs in their lap, but I don’t know how often they pull over people with dogs in their truck beds.

    I couldn’t imagine having our dogs in the back of the truck. I want them safely inside with me!

  • http://twitter.com/AllThingsDog Carrie Boyko

    Nice job, Jen. Thanks for pulling this together. Happy tails!

  • http://twitter.com/theDIYdog The DIY Dog

    In the cab, yes, but not shotgun – at least, I’ve always thought that refers to the front passenger seat. Which is a very dangerous place for a dog to ride, especially if the vehicle has air bags.

    • http://dogthusiast.com/ Jen deHaan

      That’s true, but I was really meaning “inside” as opposed to out back (I didn’t cover “inside” safety in this article, just how outside is not ideal) – good point, I should have clarified. That said, I’d rather a dog be inside a truck cab that doesn’t have a back seat than outside – I think it’s a wash as to which is more dangerous in a substantial crash.

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  • George

    I’m probably going to get a lot of hate for this but whatever. I have a husky mix who weighs in about eighty pounds. I live in San Jose. When I drive in the city I place my dog in the back of the truck because it gives him more freedom to move without him being confined and a distraction for me while driving. Although I place my dog in the bed, I secure him properly in a harness which is linked to two cables which gives him enough space to move from one side to the other side. Dogs should be secured because if you are involved in an accident the pet can potentially be flung out the window. Just because you place him inside the vehicle doesn’t mean he/she is safe either. When on the freeway Cody goes into his dog crate due to the speeds in which we travel even though he dislikes it. People who place their dogs inside the car with the windows down forget that the dog can potentially jump out of the car window as well. Just because we place the dog in the back of the truck bed doesn’t make us reckless or cruel to animals. There are people who do properly secure their dogs and make sure they are safe. Police do care because I’ve had a few pull up next to me and made sure my dog was secure. In regards to the long beach incidents, that’s due to the owners failing to properly secure their dogs and not the fault of the harness.

    • http://dogthusiast.com/ Jen deHaan

      Nowhere did I say that putting a dog in the cab is reckless or cruel. In fact, I have an entire section and mention products for the cab of the truck and discuss how people safely use these restraints. If I felt something was inhumane or cruel, I definitely wouldn’t be promoting products to go ahead and do those things.

      Simply getting in a vehicle – even walking around them – involves risk. But there are varying levels of risk, and risks that some may have not considered, which is what this article discusses. And that’s an excellent point about a rolled down window being very similar to being poorly restrained in a cab.

      And I’m glad to hear that the SJ police do care, as that is not the case in many jurisdictions I’ve heard about!

      So there’s no hate here on my end, but I do want to emphasize that this article does not condemn the way you are transporting dogs, nor does it claim that proper cab restraints are cruel or inhumane.

  • http://twitter.com/EssentiallyDogs Essentially Dogs (@EssentiallyDogs)

    Hi there!
    I did an article about driving and safety for dogs. I LOVE the way you incorporated information about citations. I didn’t know about that. I found out that not all seatbelts for dogs are equal. There were crash doggie dummie tests done. My article is different from yours and I think they work well together. http://www.essentiallydogs.com/car-safety-devices-for-dogs-are-important. Thank you for writing about this subject in your blog. It is really important and usually overlooked.