No matter how cute it seems, it's a bad idea to let your dog ride on your lap or hang its head out the window of a moving vehicle.
Those who study the issue recommend that animals be restrained within a moving vehicle. That will limit the chance of your pet, or you or your passengers, being injured in a crash. Consider that an unrestrained pet essentially becomes a projectile in a collision. In addition, a freely roaming animal could obstruct a driver's vision or ability to operate pedals.
Lindsey Wolko, executive director of the Center for Pet Safety, a Reston, Va.-based nonprofit that tests pet safety products, was inspired to start the organization about 10 years ago, after her dog, Maggie, was hurt in a car accident despite wearing a harness.
A 2013 center study found that many pet restraints on the market don't offer good levels of protection for people or animals in case of an accident. Wolko's group plans to establish safety standards and wants to test whether products meet them, certifying those that do.
In the meantime, because product standards don't yet exist, she recommends that consumers buy harnesses that are at least marketed as being protective in a crash. Harnesses typically cost $75 to $125, Wolko said.
Crates serve as another restraint option.
Wolko and several pet-loving bloggers suggest choosing a harness with broad, thickly padded straps that distribute the force of an impact as widely as possible. They suggest a short tether that fastens at the dog's back, not the neck.
If you opt for a crate, Wolko and other experts advise, buy the sturdiest model possible and secure it with a seat belt as well as a couple of wide, heavy-duty luggage straps. You might have to have your vehicle fitted with anchors.
A 2010 AAA survey found that 84 percent of drivers include their dogs on trips but only 16 percent use any type of restraint, and 20 percent drive with their pets on their laps. Thirty-one percent said their dog had distracted them while driving.
Dogs that stick their heads out windows of cars moving relatively fast are prone to getting bugs and debris in their eyes, ears and nose.
Relatively few states have enacted laws specifically governing pet safety in moving vehicles. But in New Jersey, a driver can be fined $250 to $1,000 if transporting an animal that's not contained or restricted from moving freely around the vehicle.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a trusted resource for local consumer reviews on anything from home improvement to automotive repair.