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Is it legal to drive with your dog hanging out the window in PA?

driving with your dogYou have probably seen the charming sight while dining on main street in Conshohocken, very common during these warm months of the year: a dog with his hanging out the window, looking so carefree that man’s best friend also seems to be the happiest of creatures.  But is driving with your dog in the front seat legal? Or might you get fined for letting the pooch enjoy all that fresh air (not to mention the occasional pleasure of barking at other dogs)?

Well, per Pennsylvania seat belt law, all drivers, all front seat passengers, and anyone under 18 must wear a seat belt in a motor vehicle. The state has special provisions and guidelines for the correct use of safety and booster seats for children under eight.

Child restraint system laws are crucial since the airbags in most vehicles are designed to protect adult-sized people, not small children. And though airbags afford protection for adults in car accidents, children may be gravely injured by the force of an airbag’s impact.

Dogs, like children, are usually much smaller than adults. When you are driving with your dog, they too are vulnerable to injury by an airbag in a collision. Even so, Pennsylvania has no law requiring that dogs or other pets be restrained. This is in contrast to several other states, including New Jersey, where police and animal control officers may cite drivers with unrestrained animals in their vehicle. Violators can be fined $250 to $1,000 per offense.

Still, just because something is not illegal, that doesn’t mean driving with your dog is a good idea to do. Allowing your dog free reign in your vehicle significantly increases the likelihood of distraction, now the leading cause of vehicle accidents in the US. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), no matter the distance of the trip, a dog should not be allowed to hang its head out of the window. This seems to break with tradition and your dog may pitch a fit, but you need to think of your pet’s overall safety. Not only can debris or litter whack the dog, but the heavy airflow, especially if it is chilly, in general can damage the animal’s respiratory system.

So no head hanging out the window for your pooch. Where, then, should he be? “It is always recommended,” says the DMV, that the dog be in the back seat or storage area of the vehicle, especially if the car is equipped with airbags.

While airbags are a great safety asset to adults in the time of an accident, [as we have seen] they can wreak havoc on tots and dogs. If your car does not have a passenger-side airbag, however, it is usually acceptable for the dog to ride along in the front seat, as long as they are properly restrained.

You may think it is cruel to harness your dog, but the DMV believes it is “an excellent safety option, particularly if you have a large breed of dog. Most harnesses you will find on the market are exceptionally comfortable and allow you to connect the restraint directly into the existing seat belt.” Moreover, “some of the restraint systems even come with bed-like boxes, along with the harnesses. These are popular with mid-size and smaller pups.

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