Road trip 101: Driving with pets

Pets in cars: the low-down on the law

There are no national laws applying to animal welfare in Australia, but all states and territories regulate animal welfare in their jurisdiction. However, in all states it’s an offence to have a pet on the driver’s lap. Pets can be a major distraction for drivers and you can expect to be fined if caught. In some jurisdictions, the RSPCA can issue fines to drivers if an animal is injured because it wasn’t properly restrained.

Other road rules about travelling with pets in cars, like how and whether to restrain them, vary between states and territories. Check with your relevant transport authority for specific laws, especially if your road trip extends beyond state borders.


Pet-friendly restraints

There is no denying it – collecting your puppy is filled with emotion with the excitement of bringing your tiny bundle home. Many new fur parents could be so excited and eager for hugs that a car restraint may not be the first thing on their mind, and possibly spend the trip cuddling their newest family member in the passenger or back seat. This, however, isn’t sustainable as the puppy grows.

There are a few different pet restraints you can choose from. The right one will depend on your pet’s size and the type of car you have:

  • Seatbelt harness – Seatbelt-attaching harnesses attach around the dog’s neck and shoulders and behind the front legs. You’ll want to measure your dog first to ensure the harness is the right fit, keeping in mind you may need to upsize as your dog reaches adulthood.
  • Pet crates – Crates should be secured to your vehicle to prevent them (and your pet) being projected through the car in an accident. RSPCA guidelines for travelling with a dog recommend that crates have enough space for your pet to stand up, lie down and turn around.
    If you’re restraining your pet in a crate in the back of a ute, consider their exposure to the elements, like hail and higher temperatures, and consider whether they might be safer and more comfortable inside the cabin on particular days instead.
  • Cargo barriers – Adjustable cargo barriers are a common choice for station wagons and four-wheel drives and are fitted behind the back seats. For larger cargo areas, you might consider using a pet harness as well.

Paddy in crate

Keeping your pet healthy and happy while travelling

With your pet now safely restrained, you may want to consider other ways to keep him or her happy and healthy while in the car, especially for longer drives. To help prepare for your pet’s trip, consider packing:

  • treats
  • blankets and mats
  • toys
  • a lead to take them for short walks
  • a pooper scooper
  • small bags to collect their droppings.

You might also want to make sure you factor in:

  • regular water and toilet breaks
  • window down time – it’s not safe for their head to be out but I found even just having the airflow ensures Paddy stills pick up outside scents which can interest and calm him
  • constant supervision – don’t leave them in the car alone.

Before you set off, check that your pet is healthy enough to travel, and keep the contact details of your pet insurer handy in case of sickness or an accident while you are away.

Unrestrained pets and car insurance

Another element to consider when preparing to travel with your furry friend is whether an unrestrained pet could impact your car insurance claim in the event of an accident.

The terms and conditions of many comprehensive car insurance policies state that insured parties must “take all reasonable precautions to prevent or reduce loss or damage to the insured property”. This is something to keep in mind if you have a potentially distracting pet on board.


Paying attention to the laws and regulations of your state, as well as best practice recommendations for keeping your pet safe and healthy while on the go, can help make your road trip memorable – for the right reasons. Figuring out what to do when pup decides to bring half the park home with him – well that’s an entirely different story.

Muddy Paddy

Learn more:

Travelling with your Pets – Tips from Dr Katrina


This article is written by

Kerstin Keimling

Kerstin is our Digital Manager at Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance. Kerstin dreams, talks and breathes dogs … and cats, and runs her own dog training business. She shares her life with a ginger trio of two cats and one dog.

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*Please note, any pet insurance advice provided is general only. Refer to the applicable Product Disclosure Statement for details of Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance cover.