Despite claims, most products currently marketed to restrain pets in vehicles can, at best, prevent them from moving about the vehicle during normal driving. While keeping a pet from distracting a driver is extremely worthwhile, the Center for Pet Safety (the Center), a nonprofit organization based in Virginia, seeks to promote the development of devices that do more to actually protect pets and other passengers in a crash. The Center’s founder, Lindsey Wolko, recently stated in an interview with Motor Trend magazine that her organization has been actively advocating for the establishment of safety standards for pet products since 2011.
2011 Pilot Test
In an initial effort to raise awareness of the weakness of pet restraint harnesses on the market, the Center assessed the crash effectiveness of certain models by conducting the first independent dynamic tests of such devices. The 2011 pilot study involved 30-mph crash tests of four of the products offered at that time. These tests found none that would protect the pet or even prevent the pet from potentially injuring other occupants. It also found that available designs tended to choke or cause other bodily harm to the animal when they cinched up on impact. (Of course, no dogs were harmed in this study; the Center commissioned the development of canine crash test dummies weighing 25, 30, 55, and 75 pounds. These do, however, look rather realistic in the website’s crash test videos, so a warning is posted for squeamish viewers.)
2013 Testing with Subaru Sponsorship
The pilot test results attracted a corporate sponsor, Subaru, so the Center could conduct more extensive testing in 2013. Four of the brands it examined failed a prescreening static pull test, but seven others passed and went on to dynamic testing. The one standout—the only harness, to date, to earn the Center’s recommendation—was the Sleepypod Clickit Sport harness ($90). A main takeaway from these tests was that proper pet restraint could be achieved only when the pet is held securely in place. Not surprisingly, devices that employ a tether-like system that allows the pet some freedom of movement (as most do) were catastrophically unsafe during crash testing.
Testing of Other Pet-Restraint Methods
Earlier this year, the Center tested wire crates and plastic carriers used to contain pets in vehicles. The Center determined that these did not properly protect the test dummies from likely injury. Often the foldability features of these devices created weak spots that allowed the crate/carrier to collapse on impact. Therefore, none received the Center’s highest designation of “certified”; however, those that the Center found to be top performers in this category are listed on its website.
In October, the Center released its most recent testing, that of pet travel seats (devices for small pets to sit in during travel). Again, the Center was unable to recommend any of the four travel seats tested. In most cases, the seat and/or the dummy flew off the test bench during the crash. However, even when the dummy was contained in the device, the Center assessed the risk of injury to be high due to the fact that product instructions call for the pet’s collar or walking harness to be used as a point of anchorage. The Center also noted that the test conditions were ideal and perhaps unrealistic. These devices could have performed even worse if the pet were not perfectly positioned or the crash force came from a different angle. The study also objects to the fact that product instructions often call for use in the front seat, which is less safe than the rear.
The Center’s Recommendations
The Center recommends that small pets ride in one of the two top-performing carriers from its 2015 testing. Larger pets should ride in the crate that the center deemed its top performer or in a Center for Pet Safety certified harness (currently only the Sleepypod Clickit Sport). Listings of these products, product reviews, crash test videos, and more can be found at www.centerforpetsafety.org.