On the surface, those doggie seatbelts and car harnesses featured in catalogs seem like a good idea. After all, if we buckle up on the road, shouldn't our pets? The difference is that while human seatbelts are carefully tested and held to strict quality and design standards, the same is not true for pet restraints, so there's no guarantee Fido or Fluffy is actually safer wearing one.
That may be about to change. Carmaker Subaru of America, Inc., announced it has teamed up with the Center for Pet Safety to fund testing of car safety restraints for pets.
The partnership was launched after a study by the Center for Pet Safety found that most pet safety restraints currently available do not provide adequate protection for animals in car crashes. In the study, a 55-pound crash-test dummy dog was belted into four commercial pet restraints and sent into 30 mph crashes, mimicking tests conducted on child safety seats by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). None of the four harnesses held up to manufacturer claims, and the center's scientists found they could actually lead to serious or fatal injuries for the pets and their human drivers.
You can watch one of the crash tests on YouTube -- remember that what you see is a crash-test dummy dog and not a real animal.
A 2011 study by AAA found that 83 percent of participants thought driving with an unrestrained pet in the car was dangerous, but only 16 percent said they used car restraints to keep their pets in their seats. Twenty-three percent admitted taking their hands off the wheel to to hold dogs in place while braking. A handful of states, including New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island, have laws on the books that dictate where and how pets can ride in vehicles.
Subaru's funding will be used to develop standards for pet harness and seatbelt testing, and then put those products through tests to determine safety ratings for them.