Traveling with Pets: Ensuring Safety and Comfort

The introduction of the Animal Welfare Law has sparked numerous headlines regarding the new rights and obligations for both animals and their owners. Amidst the amendments made during its processing, the subsequent need for regulation to further develop it, and the plethora of fake news it generated, many of its innovations have been overshadowed. One such change pertains to how one should travel by car with animals, but even here, criticisms have been abundant.

Previous Regulations and the Need for Change

Before the implementation of this new law, there existed only the still-active regulations stipulating that animals must be securely fastened in the vehicle to prevent them from interfering with driving, without specifying how to do so or what systems to use. Now, the Animal Welfare Law also introduces the aspect of their comfort, addressing basic issues such as their physiological needs and adequate space, as well as ensuring proper ventilation in the vehicle during travel. However, once again, without much specificity. “The driver must ensure that the means of transport have space and guarantee road safety and the safety of the pet during the journey, but it does not detail how to apply it,” notes Alejandro Prudencio, a traffic guard with the Civil Guard Traffic Group.

The Importance of Application and Safety Concerns

The application is crucial because the problem is not only that the animal distracts the driver, but also that the safety of both the pet and the other occupants of the vehicle may be compromised if, for example, the restraint system breaks in the event of a collision.

The “Elephant Effect” and Safety Risks

The “elephant effect” occurs when a person, animal, or object travels in the back of a car without proper restraint and, in the event of a collision, strikes those in front with a weight comparable to that of an elephant, hence its name. The Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE) conducted a series of crash tests simulating a frontal collision at 50 kilometers per hour using a 22-kilogram dog dummy. The result was that the pet multiplied its weight by up to 35 times. In other words, a 22-kilogram dog would hit the front occupants with 700 kilograms, as if it suddenly turned into a cow or a polar bear.

“The current regulations regarding pet transportation are very lax, only considering safety to prevent accidents, not the outcome of the accident due to the use of inadequate restraint systems,” says Sergio Gascó, a traffic accident rescue instructor specializing in pet road safety. Among the various restraint systems that comply with regulations and avoid fines —a minor offense with a fine of 80 euros, reduced to 40 euros— are the following: the dividing grid, which effectively prevents the animal from bothering the driver but does not restrain it in the event of a collision; the single-hook harness, which serves to avoid fines but, according to the DGT itself, in the event of a crash, the harness buckle would break, causing the animal to collide with the front seats; the double-hook harness, attached on one hand to the isofix or seat belt anchor, and on the other hand to the seat belt itself; and the carrier, placed on the car floor behind the front seats for small pets and in the trunk, as close to the backrest as possible and transversely to the direction of travel, for larger pets.

Recommended Safety Measures and Lack of Standardization

The DGT indicates that the choice between the different systems depends on the size and type of animal, but especially recommends the carrier and the double-anchor harness. “Both the use of a harness and a carrier can prevent the dog from being thrown out, provided they have a suitable design and correct installation. The main difference between them is how they restrain the dog’s body. No harness is capable of restraining the head in a traffic accident, unlike carriers,” says Gascó. The key here is that these systems are homologated, tested, and guarantee minimum safety standards.

Challenges Due to Lack of Standardization

One of the major problems is the lack of standardized regulations for impact tests of these devices, so many of the systems sold have not been properly tested. “The percentage of restraint devices that have been tested in impact tests is very low in relation to the number of pet transportation devices that can be found for sale,” states Gascó, who, based on his experience, has patented a solution for carrying the animal in a carrier anchored to the chassis and protected by a cover that prevents the container from moving. He has called it the Canine Restraint System (SRC) and, as stated in an interview in the DGT magazine, it will be available for dogs weighing up to 30 kilograms. “The SRC is inspired by rear-facing child restraint systems. It uses the same anchoring points and is capable of restraining the dog’s head, neck, and torso to prevent serious injuries,” he explains.

Drawing Inspiration from Child Safety Systems

In the absence of proper regulations, inspiration for these devices comes from well-tested child restraint systems. The San Sebastian-based company Babyauto leveraged its experience in child seats to create the Travel Fix harness, designed for dogs weighing up to 20 kilograms. They planned a series of tests to test their pet harness at the Impact Laboratory of the University of Zaragoza in Motorland (Alcañiz). “In addition to tests on the components that make up the harness (straps, buckles, etc.), we conducted impact tests following ECE regulations for child seats. These crash tests are carried out at a speed between 48 and 50 kilometers per hour against a static element, resulting in accelerations of up to 50 grams on the dummy,” describes Ibon Maza, a company spokesperson.

This system also uses the seat anchors that many parents will be familiar with and have been mandatory in new cars for several years: isofix and top tether. “Applied to pets, they allow the dog to be restrained by the two lower points (isofix) and the rear anti-rotation anchorage (top tether), maintaining a safe position during travel,” says Maza. The problem is that this system is optimized for the dog to sit facing forward, which is difficult for long journeys where the animal will tend to lie down sideways.

Post-Accident Considerations

Another aspect to consider is what happens to an animal traveling in a car in the event of an accident, especially if the owners cannot take care of it. Most insurance policies do not cover what happens to the pet in the event of an accident, so typically, attempts are made to contact a family member or friend of the owners who can take care of the animal, or a local animal shelter. “There is no national protocol guaranteeing adequate care for a pet victim of a traffic accident. In most cases, action is taken with the goodwill of those involved in the service and volunteers from local shelters,” says Gascó.


In conclusion, ensuring the safety and comfort of pets during car travel requires careful consideration of appropriate restraint systems and adherence to regulations. While the introduction of the Animal Welfare Law has brought attention to these issues, there remains a need for further regulation and standardization to address the complexities of pet transportation in vehicles. Collaborative efforts between government agencies, industry stakeholders, and pet owners are essential to develop and implement effective measures that prioritize the well-being of both pets and human occupants on the road.