PET-LOVING Brits are risking a hefty fine and invalidating their insurance by driving with animals roaming loose in their cars.
Creatures of all shapes and sizes have hitched a ride in owners' cars, but the unrestrained pets could cause accidents, near misses or emergency stops.
Pets are often considered an extension of the family, so they are regular vehicle passengers on our roads.
But almost two thirds of UK motorists are unaware that driving with an unrestrained pet can attract a fine of up to £5,000 for careless driving.
According to research by Confused.com, more than half of pet-owning drivers don't realise letting their pet loose in the car may also invalidate their insurance.
The study found one in 10 drivers has had an accident while travelling in the car with a pet, or know someone who has.
PETS HITCHING A RIDE
Dogs might be the most common passengers but plenty of other pets have been transported in cars, too. The top 10 shows the percentage of drivers who've carried each type.
- Dogs: 70%
- Cats: 37%
- Rabbits 8%
- Hamsters: 6%
- Fish: 6%
- Birds/Parrots: 6%
- Guinea Pigs: 4%
- Snakes: 1%
- Lizards: 1%
- Spiders: 1%
While one driver reported their dog jumped out of the window while stationary at traffic lights – and another received a fine for letting their pooch climb to the front.
It's not just dogs, either, with cats being equally dangerous. One driver reported their moggy settled in the footwell beside the pedals after escaping from its box.
By letting pets ride shotgun or hang their heads out of the window, millions of drivers are unwittingly breaking the law and leaving themselves open to a fine, points and invalidated insurance.
Rule 57 of the Highway Code states: "When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly.
"A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars."
TOP TIPS FOR DRIVING WITH YOUR PET
- The Highway Code recommends using a "seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard" to restrain animals in the car
- Experts believe using a cage or crate in the boot is the safest way to transport your pet
- Don’t feed your pet within two hours of starting a long car journey to avoid carsickness
- Pack a favourite toy or blanket to give your pet a sense of familiarity
- Use sun shades on the windows when it is hot or the sun is bright and never leave a pet in a hot car
- Always carry a large water bottle (5 litres minimum) in case your pet overheats and needs to be rapidly cooled in an emergency
- Don’t allow your pet to ride with its head hanging out of the window, as it's potentially dangerous and can cause injury
(Source: The Company of Animals)
And while disobeying the Highway Code doesn't carry a direct penalty, drivers could be pulled over by police and fined up to £1,000 for driving without proper control if their pet distracts them.
That could be stepped up to failing to drive with due care and attention (careless driving) which carries a maximum fine of £5,000 and nine penalty points if the case goes to court.
In extreme cases, the incident could also result in a driving ban and a compulsory re-test.
To make matters worse, your insurer is likely to refuse a pay out in the event of an accident, leaving you with a sizeable damage repair bill.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “Many drivers will be joined by four-legged companions as they set off on trips across the UK.
"But drivers must restrain their dogs properly, or they could receive fines up to £5,000.
"Driving with an unrestrained pet can also invalidate your car insurance, meaning having to personally pay out for repairs in the event of a claim."
We previously revealed the cheap £7 item that could save you from hefty fines when driving with your pet.
Ford released a dog crate fitted to their all-new Ford Focus estate.
And Tesla introduced "dog mode" to their electric fleet, allowing pet owners to safely leave their furry friends locked in their motor.