Edmunds advises drivers how to keep pet dogs safe in the car

(May 30, 2011) SANTA MONICA, Calif. — As families plan holiday travel this summer, many of them will have their pet dogs along for the ride. Edmunds.com offers a helpful guide for safely traveling with your pooch in "Dog-Safe Driving."

Everyone knows how important it is for adults to buckle up and for children to be properly restrained in age-appropriate car seats. So it should come as no surprise that the safest way for your dog to travel is in a harness and seatbelt.

Many pet owners might prefer to keep the dog in a crate, and while that's not a poor alternative, it does have its drawbacks. In the event of an accident, the dog could be slammed into the side of the crate; and if the crate is not properly secured, it may not hold in place.

Keeping the dog in a restraining harness isn't just safe for the pet, but for the driver as well. An unrestrained dog can become a dangerous projectile in the event of an accident or even a short stop. And a survey by AAA last year found that nearly one-third of dog-owning drivers admitted they'd been distracted by their dogs in the car. One pet safety advocacy group has put the number of car accidents caused by dogs at 30,000 annually.

Experts consulted by Edmunds.com also warn drivers not to let dogs ride with their heads out the window. As much as they might enjoy it, they could be at risk of getting injured by flying debris. Likewise, it's even more unsafe for dogs to travel in the flatbed of a pickup truck, where they could jump or be ejected at high speeds. Some states even have specific laws regulating how dogs can be transported in an open area of a vehicle.

The car doesn't have to be in motion to pose a threat to your dog; leaving your pet in an unattended vehicle can also be very harmful. Experts say that even on a 60-degree day, the temperature in a car exposed to the sun can rise to over 100 degrees. Prolonged exposure in that type of heat can cause seizures or central nervous system problems in the short term and organ function problems in the long term.

The best advice from experts is to simply leave your dog at home when you're out running errands.

For more details on safe traveling with your dog, check out the full "Dog-Safe Driving" guide.