Few people today would drive even a short distance without their children safely buckled into their seats. Now it’s time to do the same for our animals, says pet safety advocacy group Bark Buckle UP (www.barkbuckleup.com).

Unrestrained dogs and cats can distract a driver, says pet safety expert Christina Selter, and in a crash, they can be hurt, inflict injuries on human passengers, or even attack first responders who are trying to help.

She cites a chilling statistic: in a collision of just 56 km/h, an unsecured dog weighing 27 kg will launch with a force of 1,224 kg. “If that hits you in the back of the neck, it would break your neck, or be launched through the windshield,” she warns.

If a front airbag deploys when you have a pet on your lap, the airbag will almost certainly kill the animal. Not only that, but Selter says that the force of the bag, which deploys at around 321 km/h, will push the pet into your abdomen, possibly causing human internal injuries. And pet injuries don’t necessarily have to be from a collision.

Just slamming on the brakes can tumble an animal off the seat, possibly resulting in broken limbs or lacerations. A pet that gets behind the pedals can prevent you from fully applying the brakes, even as it suffers injuries from being jammed between the pedal and the floor. And it’s not unusual for a dog to be so interested in something outside the car that he jumps out through an open window.

The safest place is tethered to the rear seat, or the cargo area of SUVs or wagons. Cats or smaller dogs should be in a carrier that’s secured with tie-downs, as it will fly through the car in a crash if it’s unsecured.

Pet stores sell travel harnesses, carrier tethers and seat leashes, ranging from about $20 to $40, all of which attach to the car’s seatbelts. The leashes should never be attached to a collar, and harnesses should have wide straps, which even out the force of a crash and help prevent internal injuries.

Even if an unrestrained pet isn’t injured, it could hamper rescue efforts, “protecting” its owner from a first responder who’s trying to help. Should someone open the car door, the pet could dart into traffic, and be killed or cause a second collision as drivers swerve to avoid it.

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