Many dog owners have done it and probably know better, yes I am talking about dogs riding loose in the car, at times with their head happily out the window. We don’t do that with our children, and we shouldn’t do it with our dogs either. Most car rules that apply to kids also apply to dogs as both should be in the back and need restraints before driving off. Unfortunately for dogs, cars are designed to only protect humans in a crash. Seat belts attach the human body to the car, so when the car stops moving, the human stops too, and airbags cushion the impact of the head and limbs that still move during impact.

An unrestrained dog will turn into a powerful projectile in a car accident. A 60 lbs. dog in a 40 mph collision will have the crash force of more than 4,000 lbs. The best case scenario is your dog being ejected through the windshield, with dire consequences as you can imagine. I say best case scenario because that canine projectile has a good chance of impacting any passenger in the car with the same force of 4,000 pounds. No need to explain further, but what safety measures are available?

Popular mesh or metal wire barriers between front and back seats, or between passenger compartment and cargo hold prevent your dog from climbing in your lap and spoiling your view of the road, which is better than nothing, but they don’t offer much protection for people or dogs in an accident. Look at the barrier if you have one and imagine a 4,000-pound force. Correct, a simple barrier won’t stop your dog from becoming a deadly projectile in the event of a crash.

A loose crate with the dog inside is somewhat better for the dog but may still portend a terrible outcome for human passengers, because an unsecured crate also turns into a powerful force during a crash.

Buckled in harnesses are a better option, but they still leave some things to be desired and many dogs are more at ease traveling in crates. Let’s say the dog is wearing a harness that is attached to the seat or the kind that is an extension of the car’s safety belts like in the picture. The harness wraps around the dog’s chest and forelegs, with a loop on the back for use with the car’s seatbelt. However, they still leave room for the dog to move around and continue whiplashing if the car stops suddenly.

Crates, originally developed for air travel, have long been used for safety in cars, and they’re still one of the best options for your dogs. In our opinion, a sturdy crate that is attached to the car is the safest option, because even though the dog is not restrained, there is relatively little room to move during impact and the crash force has a better chance of being spread evenly throughout the body. Get the sturdiest crate you can, like the one in the picture. Place it in the car with the long side against the seat back, then secure it with wide, heavy-duty luggage straps.

You can’t guarantee that you won’t be in an accident, but you can reduce the risk of serious harm by not letting your dog ride loose.