In general, yes. It’s perfectly legal to drive with your pet in the car in Virginia.
However, there are also several nuances you should be aware of in regards to Virginia’s laws and transporting companion animals.
Most of these nuances revolve around driving with unrestrained animals in your vehicle.
We’ll expand on the basics of Virginia’s pet laws below, as well as a few best practices you should know about when transporting your animal in a crate or harness.
Please note, however, that it’s highly recommended that you speak with an attorney if either of the following is true:
- You were given a ticket as a result of driving with an unrestrained animal in your vehicle.
- You were involved in an accident that either (1) was caused by your animal, or (2) resulting in the injury or death of your animal.
Only an attorney who has reviewed the full facts of your case can provide the advice you need to resolve your case safely and efficiently.
The information provided below is for educational purposes only.
Driving With a Pet in the Car: The Short Answer
Put simply, it’s perfectly legal to drive with a pet in your car in Virginia, provided you follow a few basic rules and safety measures.
There are four angles to consider when discussing the topic of driving with a pet in your vehicle:
- General laws concerning the proper care of animals.
- Traffic laws, especially in regards to reckless and distracted driving.
- Personal injury laws, both in regards to crashes involving your pet (i.e. where they’re injured) and crashes caused by your pet.
- Local laws which may differ from the laws outlined in the three points above.
The second and third of these four legal angles are the source of most of the ambiguity surrounding this topic.
This is because these laws may be interpreted in ways that assign negligence to the driver due to their failure to restrain their animal.
We’ll outline the basics of these four angles below, but an important topic to consider first is the common sense approach to driving with an animal in your vehicle.
Safety First: A Common Sense Approach to the Problem
The recommended action by almost every government or regulating body (and most attorneys) is simply to take proper steps to restrain your animal in your vehicle before you hit the road.
The Virginia DMV provides the best summary of this issue on their website:
Pets, like children, should be safely restrained while traveling. All it takes is a sudden stop or turn to seriously injure your pet, not to mention what could happen if you got in an accident.
Unrestrained pets are also the cause of many accidents, as they can distract or even interfere with the driver’s ability to control the vehicle.
Today’s pet restraints and car seats quickly and easily attach to a vehicle’s seat belt, and provide plenty of freedom for the pet to sit up or lie down.
Wire cages or plastic crates are also excellent choices to protect pets while traveling, as they shield pets from falling objects.Pets in Cars — Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
While recent studies have shown that driving with an unrestrained pet is a rather common occurrence, it’s still also a fact that driving with an unrestrained animal is dangerous and distracting.
Always place your animal in a proper crate, harness, or similar device before you hit the road.
Otherwise, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a traffic ticket, misdemeanor charge, personal injury case, or other similarly unpleasant experience.
4 Topics Worth Considering When Driving with Your Pet in the Car
As we noted above, there are four general topics worth considering when you drive with your pet in the vehicle.
Generally speaking, these topics all revolve around the different ways you can keep yourself and your pet safe while you’re on the road.
1. Proper Care of Animals
One of the most relevant laws to this discussion appears in a portion of the Virginia Code on agriculture:
Each owner shall provide for each of his companion animals (1) adequate feed, (2) adequate water, (3) adequate shelter, (4) adequate space in the primary enclosure depending on the animal’s age, size, species, and weight, (5) adequate exercise, (6) adequate care, treatment, and transportation, and (7) veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission.Summarized from Va. Code § 3.2-6503
Point 6 is particularly relevant to this topic, as it stresses the importance of “adequately” caring for the well-being of your animals.
As outlined in a different section of the Virginia Code:
“Adequate care” or “care” means the responsible practice of good animal husbandry, handling, production, management, confinement, feeding, watering, protection, shelter, transportation, [and] treatment…appropriate for the age, species, condition, size and type of the animal.Va. Code § 3.2-6500
“Treatment” or “adequate treatment” means the responsible handling or transportation of animals in the person’s ownership, custody or charge, appropriate for the age, species, condition, size and type of the animal.Va. Code § 3.2-6500
Taken together, these sections mean that all animals must be adequately and reasonably restrained whenever they are being transported in vehicles.
Since the law doesn’t note any specific measures, most instances of transporting an animal would fall under the common sense guidelines outlined above.
This means that instances of driving with an unrestrained animal will be resolved on a case-by-case basis, as based on a common-sense interpretation of the above-quoted laws.
For example, you should never let a 70-pound dog sit in your lap while you’re driving, as doing so would be irresponsible and could endanger both your life and your pet’s.
On the other hand, restraining your dog in a crate in the back seat would likely count as responsible, since it’s a best practice recommended by the Virginia DMV.
Any cases that fall between these two extremes would likely be left to the judge’s discretion.
Finally, note that failing to follow the rules in this section actually counts as a misdemeanor, and is punishable with fines of up to $1,000.
2. Traffic Laws and Reckless Driving
Virginia’s laws on reckless driving can also be interpreted in ways that assign negligence to individuals who are transporting unrestrained pets.
For example, Virginia Code § 46.2-852 states the Commonwealth’s general rule on reckless driving as:
“Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”Va. Code § 46.2-852
Under this law, various dangerous acts such as drowsy driving or otherwise driving in an odd manner could be punished as reckless driving depending on the facts of the case and the seriousness of the offense.
Similarly, driving with an unrestrained animal in the car could be charged as reckless driving under this law, since the only requirement is that you are driving in a manner that endangers the “life, limb or property of any person.”
For example, if your animal gets behind your break pedal or otherwise impairs your ability to drive safely, an officer could pull you over and charge you with reckless driving.
Finally, and as expanded on in the next section, if your animal’s actions result in an accident, the responding officer may choose to write you a ticket for reckless driving.
Such a ticket could endanger any potential insurance claim or personal injury case you may file as a result of the accident.
3. Personal Injury Claims and Accidents Involving Pets
It’s relatively easy to imagine how having a pet in your car can lead to distractions or possibly even a crash.
You might find yourself petting your animal or feeding it treats, both of which are actions that could distract you while you’re driving.
However, much like with texting and driving, these actions can significantly impact your ability to safely drive on the roadway.
For example, by petting your animal you’re taking your hands off the wheel, looking at the animal, and not thinking about the current state of the cars around you.
These factors can significantly increase the risk of being involved in an accident, as well as the risk of yourself or your pet becoming injured.
Additionally, you should keep in mind that pets count as property in Virginia.
This means that, in the event your pet is injured or killed in an accident, you are only entitled to the fair market value of your pet (or compensation for it’s injuries).
In this way, if you failed to properly restrain your animal (as outlined above), an argument could be made against you that you failed to “adequately” protect your animal from harm, thus ruining your claim for damages.
For these reasons, the presence of an unrestrained pet in your vehicle (or even a pet that’s restrained in the front seat) can potentially harm any insurance or personal injury claims you may submit.
Remember, the most important thing you can do whenever you’re traveling with your pet is to make sure you have your full attention on the road and not your fluffy friend.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you keep your animal restrained in the back seat whenever you’re driving on a Virginia road.
4. Local Laws and Guidelines
Finally, and most importantly, you should remember that your local laws may say something different when it comes to driving with animals in your vehicle.
For example, a city or county could enact a law stating that all pets must be safely restrained in cages or harnesses, meaning that anyone driving in or through that jurisdiction would have to follow this local law.
Practically speaking, it’s impossible for the average person to keep track of every individual locality’s laws on driving with an animal in the car, so it’s wise (and highly recommended) that Virginia drivers simply restrain their animals whenever they decide to hit the road.
In general, driving with a pet in your car is perfectly legal in Virginia, provided you follow a few basic rules and best practices.
Most government agencies, regulatory bodies, and attorneys will recommend that you restrain your pet in the back seat of your vehicle using a crate, harness, or similar method.
This is because having an unrestrained pet in your vehicle increases the chance that you’ll be involved in an accident.
Further, driving with an unrestrained animal will sometimes result in criminal charges or claims of negligence.
For example, Virginia’s reckless driving statute and the state’s laws on the proper care and transportation of animals could be interpreted to find you negligent if your drive with your pet unrestrained in the vehicle.
These situations are usually interpreted on a case by case basis.
For these reasons, you should always safely restrain your pet before you hit the road, as the risks of failing to do so will almost always outweigh the rewards.
If you receive a ticket due to an unrestrained pet, or you experience an accident involving your pet, you should speak with an attorney immediately.
As we outlined in the sections above, these are serious events that can have long-term effects on your life.
By consulting with an experienced attorney, you can get the help you need to resolve the matter both quickly and efficiently.
- Va. Code § 3.2-6500. Definitions.
- Va. Code § 3.2-6503. Care of companion animals by owner; penalty.
- Va. Code § 46.2-852. Reckless driving; general rule.
- Reckless Driving in Virginia: The Ultimate Guide
- 9 Questions Your Lawyer Will Ask You After a Car Accident in Virginia (and Why)
- What Damages Can I Recover in a Virginia Personal Injury Case?
- What to Do After a Car Accident in Virginia: A 6-Step Guide
- Pets in Cars, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles — A short little article on best practices relating to driving with an animal in your vehicle.
- Pet Passenger Safety, AAA Exchange — A quick little read that includes some data on how often drivers are distracted by dogs.