Road trip 101: Driving with pets

Picture the scene. You’re driving down the highway on that carefully planned family road trip. If this were a Hollywood production, the windows would be down, pooch’s head out, with ears pinned back and gums flailing in all directions. The cars behind turn on their windscreen wipers to fend off the onslaught of drool.

But when we cut back to reality (and in the absence of a doggy stunt double) how do you a travel safely with your pooch on Australian roads, while ensuring everyone’s tail is still wagging by the time you arrive?

This became a particularly relevant topic for me and my partner when we welcomed golden retriever pup, Paddy, into our family. We quickly found out that there is a fair amount of preparation involved in travelling safely with our pet, both for our benefit and for little Paddy.

Pets in cars: the low down on the law

As you can imagine, it has been great fun taking Paddy with us on different dog-friendly trips, but first we had to brush up on a few new rules to keep us all safe and on the right side of the various regulations and laws.

For example, in Australia 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 when caught. In some jurisdictions, the RSPCA may 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 besotted and eager for hugs that 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. Paddy is today an excitable (bigger) puppy, and we have invested in a pet crate that we secured in the backseat. The crate keeps him settled, stationary and away from the driver’s seat.

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 state that crates must have enough space for your pet to stand up, lie down and turn around. We opted for a bigger crate that would suit a fully grown Paddy to save some money.
    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


About Sean Callery

Sean is a Senior Content Manager at financial comparison site Canstar. He has over 10 years’ experience writing about finance and consumer affairs in Australia and overseas, plus about three months’ experience as a dad to an adorable but boisterous golden retriever pup.

*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.