Dog in car laws

July 11th, 2008

If you refuse to restrain your dog in back of your Ute, you are risking the dog safety in cars, as well as a whopping fine. Restraining your dog in vehicles save lives.

“He’s been doing it for years. He knows what he’s doing.”

This is one of many excuses RSPCA Victoria Chief Inspector Kevin Apostolidades hears when he pulls drivers over for not restraining their dog in the back of their vehicle — particularly Utes.

Today, animal welfare laws in New Zealand and in most states of Australia specifically require dogs to be restrained on the back of a moving vehicle. Yet some dog owners continue to take the risk.

“They all say how much they love their dog,” Mr Apostolidades said. “But even the best driver in the world can have a serious breaking accident that is not his fault. The dog can hit into the back of the vehicle and have a minor injury, or fly off the Ute and possibly die.”

RSPCA statistics reveal about 5000 dogs each year are injured or killed in Australia as a result of falling from a moving vehicle. The RSPCA started lobbying in the early 1990s as part of a national campaign to improve animal welfare laws after such appalling statistics.

Mr Apostolidades said drivers sometimes have the proper restraint on the back of the vehicle but don’t bother to tie up their dog because they are “only going around the corner. They say they love their dog, that he is part of the family. Would you put your child on the back of a vehicle without a restraint? Most magistrates will look at it the same way. They see it as a minor traffic violation, like not wearing a seatbelt for humans.”

Mr Apostolidades also finds dogs being transported in cages along with tools, such as chainsaws. “The dog tries to dodge items and often sustains a leg injury,” he said. “Most tradespeople and farmers are the culprits.”

Surprisingly, some drivers also tie up their dog so it is balancing on cargo. If the dog falls off the pallet it can get injured or choked. Using choker chains could also strangle the dog to death during a sudden break. Moreover, leaving your dog in the back of the ute on hot days can cause heat stress.

“It comes down to common sense,” he says.

RSPCA volunteer Christopher Walden of Tasmania restrains his dog, Freddo, to the back of his ute with a homemade chain to prevent him getting injured or killed.

Understanding the difference

The only dogs that are exempt from being restrained are working dogs specifically used for the purpose of droving stock and which are going from one property to another. Dr Matthew Makin, veterinarian and President of the Australian Veterinary Association of Victoria, specialises in cattle and understands the job of a working dog. He has made great contributions to government policy in creating regulations, such as banning unrestrained dogs on vehicles.

“Dogs have been an important part of farm life for decades in Australia and farmers have taken the issue seriously for years,” Dr Makin said. “It was a case of the law catching up with community attitudes. There has been no great resistance to the law since implementation.”

When a dog is droving stock on a farm, farmers drive slowly on one property and the dog can jump on and off without getting injured. However, most farmers have more than one property and they have to drive long distances to get to them.

“Farmers must restrain their dogs when they go on public roads,” Dr Makin said. “Most injuries happen on public roads. In Victoria, you see more dogs on the back of Utes than in any other state because there are so many farms in such a small area. Most people understand the importance of restraining their dogs.”

Over the years, Dr Makin has seen dogs suffer from the most horrific injuries after falling off vehicles. The two types of injuries that occur are severe breaks to legs, and gravel rash, which is the grazing of the body against the surface of the road.

“It can tear chunks of skin off and is a difficult injury to manage,” he said.

The RSPCA has ute restraints available for dogs. About 5000 dogs each year are injured or killed in Australia as a result of falling from a moving vehicle.


Christopher Walden, RSPCA Tasmania Northern Branch committee member, said his fiance once witnessed an unrestrained dog jump off a moving vehicle as another car passed by.

“The dog broke his leg, but just kept on running to try to get away from the pain. It doesn’t happen very often, but it only has to happen once,” he said.

Mr Walden takes extra care in fastening his Terrier Cross, Freddo, to the back of his Ute with a chain that he made himself. “Freddo accepts that his chain is a part of the excitement of going somewhere in the Ute. He jumps up onto the Ute and then assumes the position with one foot on the mudguard, ready for his lead to be clipped on,” he said.

Ross Allan, who runs a dog training school in Queensland, believes the length of the lead can make the difference between life and death. He says his dogs are tied to the back of his truck with a short lead, even if it takes away their pleasure of getting a good view.

“Every dog I have seen tied in the back of a utility is attached to a chain or lead that is far too long and would never contain a dog, as their backsides can still end up over the side and can be dragged along beside the vehicle even if their rear ends cannot reach the ground,” Mr Allan said.

Sadly, one of his dogs suffered a tragic accident six years ago that has haunted Mr Allan to this day. He and his son Jeffrey were visiting friends and one of them lengthened the lead attached to his German Shepherd, Piute, saying it was too short for him to have a good look around.

“We drove off and I made a mental note to shorten the lead when we got out of sight,” Mr Allan said. Jeffrey drove on, not realising that moments later Piute fell over the side of the vehicle. People in a car driving behind alerted Jeffrey to what had occurred and he stopped the vehicle and saw Piute hanging, dead. He gave Piute mouth-to-nose resuscitation, revived him and then raced him to the Mountain View Vet Surgery at Buderim, where Piute received months of treatment for devastating injuries. He had a large area of skin burned off his right rear leg and a large burn area on his right rib cage. There was no skin, pads or claws on his four feet and for several inches up from the bottom of his feet.

Mr Allan said they did not expect Piute to survive the accident, but he recovered amazingly against all odds. However, the stress of the injuries was too much for Piute, who passed away in 2002.

“The only completely safe way for dogs to travel in the rear of an open vehicle, it seems, is to have an enclosed cage,” Mr Allan said. “Otherwise they have a better chance of survival if they are loose on the back of a vehicle. People seem to have no comprehension of how far a dog can stretch under the circumstances, particularly in large breeds.”

Mr Allan said he hopes this incident will serve as a reminder to dog owners to restrain their dog properly.

Dr Makin names three ways to restrain a dog safely to the back of a Ute: cages, specialised harnesses and chains to collars. Attaching a chain to the dog’s collar is the most common on farm vehicles, “but careful attention must be given to the length of the chain and the position at which the chain is fixed to the vehicle”, he warns.

The RSPCA advises the restraint must be long enough to permit the dog to stand, lie down and move about but should not be of a length which would permit either the front or hind legs reaching the side of the tray when the dog is standing normally. The restraint should be attached by a swivel to an anchor point hard up against the vehicle cabin. The other end of the chain should be fastened to the dog’s collar or harness by another swivel, which prevents the chain from tangling.

Mr Apostolidades said most harnesses are of seat-belt material and are made to hold the heaviest dogs, like Rottweilers. Cages are also manufactured to fit your dog’s size, but keep in mind the size of your dog when ordering. If you’re not sure, ring the RSPCA or local council animal welfare unit.

Restraints can either be purchased in Australia directly from the RSPCA by calling 1300 300 662 or bought from K Mart stores. Ute restraints in Tasmania are available from the RSPCA Tasmania Hobart division on (03) 6244 3033.

Laws around the land

Dogs are required to be restrained on the back of a moving vehicle under the Animal Welfare Act 1992, said Lee-Anne Wahren, Policy Officer within Environment Planning and Legislation, who is responsible for reviewing all animal welfare policy in the ACT Government.

Ms Wahren said correspondence from the RSPCA regarding injuries to animals handed in to the society and a number of veterinarian reports initiated the amendment to the Act in 1999. The maximum fine for breaching the law is $2000.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 requires dogs to be restrained on moving vehicles, said Dr Stephen Tate, Director of Bureau of Animal Welfare within the Vic Department of Primary Industries. The maximum fine for breaching the law is $500.

Mr Apostolidades, who has been RSPCA inspector for 23 years, said the number of dog injuries in Victoria has dropped dramatically since the legislation came into effect in 1995.

In Victoria, only police can stop a vehicle carrying an unrestrained dog but an RSPCA inspector can take the registration number and trace the owner or follow the vehicle until it stops and then question the owner. Mr Apostolidades said the RSPCA is now putting in a submission to amend the law to be able to issue a Personal Infringement Notice (PIN) to offending drivers, instead of the matter going straight to the Magistrate’s Court. If drivers choose to contest the notice, the matter would then go to court, he said.

Having an unrestrained dog on a moving vehicle could breach both the Transport Operations (Road Use Management — Road Rules) Regulation 1999 and the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001.

The Transport Operations Regulation, administered by the Department of Transport, states it is an offence to have an unsecured load on the back of a vehicle and that applies to dogs, said Dr Rick Symons, Manager of the Animal Welfare Unit within the Qld Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.

The Animal Care and Protection Act does not specifically mention dogs restrained on vehicles, but it places a duty of care on owners of animals to ensure the welfare needs of animals are met.

“It is an offence under the Act for a person in charge of an animal to breach this duty of care by transporting the animal in a way that is inappropriate for the animal’s welfare,” he said.

A breach of duty of care can result in a fine of $22,500 (and up to five times this amount for a corporation) or one year’s imprisonment.

Northern Territory
The Animal Welfare Act 1999 states, “A person transporting an animal must do so in a manner that does not unreasonably or unnecessarily inflict suffering on the animal.”

Peter Brice, the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee Executive Officer for NT, said the Act replaced the old Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and is primarily enforced by the RSPCA. Breaking the law will incur an on-the-spot fine of $100.

“Everybody in the Northern Territory has a Ute,” Mr Brice said. “They pop a couple of dogs on the back and go hunting on the weekends, but (the law) is widely publicised and it’s accepted.”

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 requires a dog to be restrained on the back of a moving vehicle or enclosed in such a way as to prevent the dog falling from the vehicle.

The maximum penalty is $5500 or six months in jail, according to Dr Ian Lugton, Senior Veterinary Officer within the Animal Welfare Unit of the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Dr Lugton said by March he expects officers to have authorisation to track down offenders involved in motor vehicle offences by following up on the vehicle’s registration details.

Western Australia
No legislation specifically requires dogs to be restrained on the back of moving vehicles, howe’ver the Animal Welfare Act 2002 states a person in charge of an animal is defined as being cruel to an animal “if the animal is transported in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, it unnecessary harm,” said Vicky Nazer, Research and Administration Officer within the Animal Welfare Branch of the WA Department of Local Government and Regional Development.

“So in a case where the Act of transporting a dog on a Ute was causing it, or likely to cause it, unnecessary harm, the person in charge of the animal could be charged with an offence of cruelty under the Act,” Ms Nazer said.

The maximum penalty is $50,000 and imprisonment for five years.

South Australia
Transporting unrestrained dogs is against the law as provided in the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995. The Act was amended in 2004 to include the legislation.

Deb Kelly, Manager of the Animal Welfare Unit within the SA Department for Environment and Heritage, wrote the policy regarding the issue.

“The purpose of the restraint in Utes is really three fold,” Ms Kelly said. “First, there is a safety issue of the dog falling out of the ute and causing an accident for the car behind. Second, the safety of the dog itself, and third, to address the issue of a dog left in the back of a ute that bites people going past.”

The maximum fine if breaking the law is $750.

The Dog Control Act 2000 states, “The owner or person in charge of a dog must restrict the dog sufficiently while it is in or on a vehicle so that it is unable to leave the vehicle or attack any person or animal outside the vehicle.”

RSPCA Tasmania Chief Inspector Graeme Lewis said only police officers could enforce the law. Breaking the law has a maximum fine of $500.

Since the law came into effect, driving with unrestrained dogs has “virtually stopped”, Mr Lewis said.

New Zealand
The Animal Protection Act 1960 and the Animal Welfare Act 1999 require all animals to be secured during transport.

Dr Wayne Ricketts, Programme Manager Animal Welfare of the Animal Welfare Group, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said dogs couldn’t be carried on the open back of vehicles during extreme weather. Also, where a dog is carried in a purpose-built box fitted to the rear of a car, the kennel must be fixed where it is well ventilated and free from exhaust fumes and road dust. Working dogs cannot be transported loose in the stock crate with livestock.

“We have a voluntary code which was promulgated under the old legislation, which requires that when dogs are travelling on the deck of a truck they must be secured,” Dr Ricketts said

However, this code was not enforceable and is still to be updated so that it becomes a code issued under the new Act. Codes issued under the new Act have legal status in that minimum standards contained within a code have to be complied with, otherwise there is a risk of prosecution under the Act.

“The dog code has just started to be reviewed and it has yet to be discussed by the National Welfare Advisory Committee, which develops codes. I could not say whether they would transfer these requirements into minimum standards or not,” he said.

The maximum fine under the new Act for failing to provide secure accommodation is $25,000 or six months in jail.

Correctly securing your dog to the back of your Ute will prevent injury and heartache. If you love your dog — secure your dog!

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