Pets Must Not Ride In The Front Seats Of Cars

Pets must not ride in the front seats of cars.

The principle is the same as children not riding in front seats. Let’s look at the reasons.

When airbags deploy properly in an automobile crash they can save lives and minimize injury. “Deploy properly” means:


  1. Driver or passenger will be the proper distance from the airbag. The minimum distance is commonly accepted to be twelve inches.
  2. Drivers and passengers must be belted, in most circumstances, to position them correctly for the path of the airbag’s travel and to control collateral movements during an accident. Some new, advanced airbags can vary the speed of deployment by sensing whether the occupant is belted, how close he is to the stored airbag and the speed of the car. “First generation” airbags in older cars deploy at a much higher rate of speed than the newest “smart” airbags.
  3. Occupants are assumed to be a minimum of thirty-five pounds body weight. Smaller occupants will experience a far greater force-to-body weight ratio.

What is the likelihood a pet in the front seat of a vehicle will meet these criteria?

  1. Distance: unless restrained by a pet seat belt, a dog is likely to have his nose in the air conditioner vent or sniffing the window. That would put him about six inches from a deploying airbag, which would be travelling at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour. I will leave the damage estimate to your imagination.
  2. Seat belts; Even if your vehicle contains “smart” airbags they will not sense your pet’s status, belted or unbelted, and know to minimize speed and impact.
  3. Body weight: Like small children in the front seat of a vehicle, impact on a small body can be devastating, and airbag fatality reports of children, animals and even adult humans are widespread.Furthermore, an unrestrained pet, child or can of peas becomes a missile in an accident. We can express the force of that missile using the momentum formula: momentum=mass times velocity. Let’s take a 10 kilogram (kg) dog (22#) in a car moving 1 m/s (about 2.2 mph). Stop the car instantly and the dog hits the dashboard or windshield at 10 kgs per meter second. Put another way, if he’s in the back seat he would hit you in the head like a 22 pound ball flying 2 miles per hour. As no one drives 2 mph, let’s put it into real terms. The same 10 kg dog flying through the air at 13.4 meters/second (about thirty miles per hour) now hits you or the windshield with the force of 130 kg m/s. Now the ball hitting you in the head weighs 660 pounds!.


Likewise, if your pet is riding in your lap and the airbag deploys, driving his head into your face at 200 mph, it is unlikely that either of you would survive.

Previously we have discussed horror stories of animals improperly restrained in vehicles (Pet Travel Safety I) (Pet Travel Safety II). As I was on my way to work I saw a large dog jumping back and forth in the front seat of the car in front of me.  I cringed, then said a quick prayer for the safety of the dog and driver.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.


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  1. All I can say is great post. We travel with our two dogs (our Web site is our business), and we always make sure they are attached to their car harnesses. People think they are doing their pet a favor by letting them ride in the front seat of a car (or the bed of a pickup) – if they only knew … or cared.

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