Sunday 17 December 2017

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar takes lead in bid to make dogs belt up in car

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

Dog seatbelts could soon feature in our cars.

Transport Minister Leo Varakdar is consulting with the Road Safety Authority about keeping dogs restrained securely in cars.

There are strict rules about securing children and adults in cars with seatbelts, but no rules about dogs and other animals.

This is despite the fact that dogs, some weighing up to 60kg, can inflict severe injuries on passengers if thrown around inside the car as a result of a collision.

The main methods of restraining dogs in cars include dog harnesses -- known as "dog seatbelts" -- which connect to the seat of a car.

They can be bought here in shops and online for ¿10 to ¿15. Dog owners can also buy dog cages from ¿45 if they have larger vehicles such as people carriers to secure them in.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said the matter was receiving "ongoing consideration".

He added: "The general advice is that neither people nor objects, including animals, should be unrestrained when travelling in vehicles."

There are no statistics available on whether unrestrained dogs in cars have been the cause of accidents or if they have inflicted injuries on adults and children during collisions.

But the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) backed Mr Varadkar's focus on the issue.

Chief executive Noel Griffin said most people had no idea of the harm that could be caused by not restraining their dog during car journeys.

"If you have a child in the car, even a reasonably sized dog can come through like a missile and you have 30kg, 40kg, 50kg or 60kg going around the cabin. It could cause terrible damage," he said.

The main methods of restraining dogs in cars are dog harnesses – which can be bought for around €10 – and dog cages, which can be securely attached in larger vehicles.

Mr Griffin said it made absolute sense from a welfare point of view to use a dog harness or a dog cage in the car.

"There's not a day goes by when I don't see a dog sitting in the front seat of a car with its head out the window. Nobody's trying to be a spoilsport, but ultimately losing the family pet could be the consequence," he said.

The issue was initially raised with Mr Varadkar by a concerned member of the public on the website. He told them it was the first time it had been raised - and thanked them for their interest in road safety.

The Department of Transport has not specified what types of dog restraints are now being examined, or whether any legislation will be introduced.

Last year, an animal-loving Democratic politician in New Jersey tried to introduce a $25 (€20) fine for drivers who transported their dogs in cars without restraints. But it was shot down by the New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie as a "stupid" proposal.

However, five other US states require dogs to be caged or restrained in a vehicle.

The ISPCA is willing to support any legislation that Mr Varadkar brings in to make the use of appropriate restraints mandatory here. But it is pointing out that dog owners can voluntarily buy these restraints already.

Mr Griffin said owners should also be aware that unrestrained dogs were liable to leap out of the car after a long holiday trip and that this had resulted in people being unable to find their dogs if they had not fitted them with a collar or a microchip.

"Most dogs have a good sense of how to get home. But if the dog does a runner in a strange area, you'd have your work cut out trying to find the poor fellow," he said.

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Irish Independent

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