Americans shared their homes with 377.4 million animals in 2011,
according to the American Pet Products Association survey.
Cats were the most popular pet, at 86.4 million, and dogs came
in a close second with 78.2 million.
But while a car ride with a cat is an exercise in tension, a dog
goes along for the fun of it. A recent AAA survey found that 56
percent of dog owners had driven with companions at least once a
month over the past year.
Unfortunately, most people are driving dangerously when Fido is
riding shotgun. Sixty-five percent admitted engaging in distracting
activities such as petting their dog (52 percent) and using their
hands to restrict the dog's movement when braking (23 percent).
Despite knowing better -- 83 percent agree that driving with an
unrestrained dog is dangerous -- only 16 percent use a restraining
The danger of an unrestrained pet is very real. According to
Jennifer Huebner-Davidson, AAA National Traffic Safety program
manager, an unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at 50 mph will
exert roughly 500 pounds of force, while an unrestrained 80-pound
dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds
Adam Fell of
Veterinary Pet Insurance
says the most common types of injuries suffered by pets in car
accidents are bruises and lacerations, chest and head trauma, major
wounds, fractures and ruptured organs. All of these require
extensive -- and expensive -- medical care.
So is my pet covered?
If the accident was your fault, your vet bills are your own
problem, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at CarInsurance.com. A
pet is considered personal property, and collision and
comprehensive typically cover damage only to the vehicle.
On the other hand, if the other driver was at fault, you can
make a claim against their
property damage liability coverage
. The bills for your car and the bills for your pet would come out
of the same pot of money, so if the at-fault driver's limits aren't
high enough to pay everything, you would still be on the hook.
Fortunately, a number of car insurers value your pet like a
member of the family and include some coverage on their collision
Progressive was the first insurer to add pet coverage back in
2007. Other insurers have jumped on the bandwagon, but availability
varies by insurer and by state.
Here is a quick rundown of the major insurers that will cover
your pet in an accident:
- Dogs and cats only. This is not a national program so check
with your local club. $500 injury or burial.
- Coverage is for cats and dogs only. $750 for injury or burial
per animal or $1,500 per incident.
- Coverage is for dogs and cats only. Up to two pets per claim.
$500 each for medical care or $1,000 per loss.
- Coverage is for dogs and cats only. $1000 per loss for medical
care or burial. Coverage also extends to boats and RVs. Dogs and
cats of relatives that live with you are protected as well.
- Coverage extends coverage to all pets except animals used to
generate income such as racing dogs or horses. $2,000 for injury
- Coverage is for dogs and cats only. $500 for injury or
While pet coverage is a great perk, Gusner says, it's shouldn't
be a deciding factor when you comparison shop for car insurance.
Pocket $1,102 just by shopping around
"The difference in rates between companies can be hundreds or
even thousands of dollars," Gusner says. "You might be able to buy
separate pet insurance with the savings and have money left
According to Dr. Jules Benson of
Petplan Pet Insurance
, pet insurance covers treatment for all accidental injuries
including those sustained in car accidents, as well as
Costs vary by pet age and size and the deductible you choose;
$8,000 in coverage for an 8-year-old Lab would run about $42 a
Keeping your best friend safe
The best way to keep your pet safe is to use a harness or crate
when rolling with your pet. Experts recommend crating dogs or cats
and putting them in the rear cargo area. In smaller cars, buckling
them up in the backseat using a harness is the safest way to
Harnesses are widely available and are priced from $15 and up
depending on the pet size.
Dog trainer and pet expert Amy Robinson offers a few do's and
don'ts for keeping your pet safe while in the car:
- Measure your dog for a cushioned, well-fitted car
- Use treats to entice the dog to put his head through the
- Go on a short walk wearing the harness to let him get used
- Use a crate as an alternative, but secure it in the car.
- Feed your dog a big meal just before departing.
- Put a dog unrestrained in the front seat, air bags can injury
- Allow the dog to sit on your lap. This can be a huge
- Tie your dog down using his leash and collar.
- Roll the window all the way down. This is an accident waiting