Driving with dogs: car restraints, accessories and the law

A spotted black and white dog looking happy in the backseat of a car

Toby Hagon

Posted April 12, 2022

If you’re travelling with your best four-pawed friend, know your legal obligations, which products can keep your car pristine, and which are just a scam. 

Pet ownership in Australia has never been higher, with 61 per cent of households having at least one (mostly) furry creature for additional company.

Unsurprisingly, dogs are the most common, with two in five households having at least one canine companion. And about one-quarter of those dogs are loaded into the family car for a holiday each year. Not to mention all the dogs who travel to the workplace as well. 

It’s a lot of miles for four paws to travel. But what is the best way to transport a dog and what are your legal obligations? 

The laws for driving with a dog 

In Victoria, there are no specific rules about securing your dog in a vehicle, although it is illegal to have a dog on your lap, one law that seems common around Australia. 

But for more details on driving with dogs, VicRoads links web users from its own website to Animal Welfare Victoria, which provides stricter rules about travelling with dogs. 

It states you can’t put a dog in the boot of a sedan, but you can put them in the load area of an SUV or wagon if there’s a cargo barrier. Or, you can pop the dog in the tray of a ute, provided they are “appropriately tethered or caged” and have insulating material between them and the metal tray if the external temperature is 28 degrees or higher. 

If your dog is in the cabin with you, Animal Welfare Victoria states it must be “adequately restrained.” 

That requirement for restraining a dog is more relaxed in other parts of the country. 

Queensland recommends restraining a dog but doesn’t legally require it. But when the dog is in the tray of a ute, it is considered a load - and any unrestrained load can be penalised. 

Similarly, NSW does not require pets to be restrained, but says “they should travel in an appropriate area of your vehicle.”


A brown dog being clipped into a harness before a car ride

The RSPCA recommends dogs be restrained in the car to reduce distractions and keep the dog safe. Image: Getty.

Best to buckle up? 

The RSPCA recommends owners restrain their dogs to reduce distractions, prevent the dog from jumping or falling from the vehicle, and stop the dog becoming a projectile in a crash. 

While the RSPCA recommends restraints “should have passed safety tests”, there’s no Australian standard or test that is formally recognised. Instead, some manufacturers claim to have conducted their own tests, although how severe they are and what they involve is difficult to ascertain. 

At a guess, it’d be unlikely to involve securing a well-fed Labrador at 80km/h. 

In many instances, then, dog restraints for vehicles are more about stopping the dog exploring the vehicle at 110km/h than properly restraining your pet in a serious collision. 

Beware the clever marketing claims, too. One (shall not be named) dog restraint states it had been crash-tested but with fine print pointing out “there are no official standards or test requirements” and that the manufacturer “will not accept liability for any injuries or damage associated with the use of our product”. 

Potentially confusing the situation, was a nearby statement claiming the dog harness “complies to Australia ADR 42/04”, which certainly sounds authoritative. But that Australian Design Rule for vehicles is “to specify general design and construction requirements to ensure safe operation of vehicles”. 

In other words, it is not specifically relating to dog restraints but to a raft of features and components of a vehicle. 

All of which suggests the best test might be some common sense and a closer inspection of the materials and fittings of the restraint you’re looking at. Assuming it is more about keeping a dog in one part of the vehicle than performing the job of a seatbelt. 


A small black and tan terrier sitting on a protective mat in the ackseat of a car

Seat protectors are just one of the many car accessories you can buy for your pet. Image: Getty.

Doggy style and safety 

So, keeping the dog safe is not as easy as popping on a seatbelt. 

But there’s lots more to pet accessories on the move than harnesses. 

Seat protectors, ramps and water bowls are all part of the hundreds of accessories you can grab to pamper your pooch on a road trip.  

Water bowls with a broader, double-lipped rim minimise the chances of spills while allowing your dog to remain hydrated. 

Beds and supports to extend the seat area can also be handy, if potentially OTT. 

Or you can buy protectors to protect the seats or insides of the doors from sharp claws. 

Nissan even created a Dog Pack with a range of branded accessories including a ramp, cargo barrier, boot lid protector, lead, waste bag holder, cargo organiser, dog bed and a travel bowl. 

The kit retails from $339 to $1215 depending on the size of your dog and whether you want the basics or the whole outfit. 

Most brands also offer cargo barriers designed to fit that car without affecting its airbag coverage. 

One advantage with choosing the manufacturer option is you know it will be tailored to your car. 

You can also potentially bundle it in with finance or a lease when negotiating the purchase, meaning less money out of your pocket in the short term. 

Many accessories supplied by vehicle manufacturers will also be covered by the same warranty covering the rest of the car. That could mean five years’ peace of mind, which will almost certainly surpass a cheap-and-cheerful product bought elsewhere.


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The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.