People often ask: “What are the rules around travelling with dogs in cars?”

Picture of a dog in a car


Have you ever wondered what the law says about dog safety when you are driving your pet around?

Will you get fined if your dog is unrestrained in your car?

In this article I’ll give you both the short answer and the long answer around keeping your dog safe in the car.

But first a disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, this is my best interpretation of the rules and regulations.


The short answer….

In all the states and territories of Australia, you’re going to get a fine and demerit points if:

  • your dog is in your lap; or
  • if they are blocking your view so that you can’t drive safely; or
  • you are walking them next to the car while you drive (!!); or
  • your dog is in the back of your ute and not restrained in some way to stop them falling out.

The long answer…

Let’s look at the Road Rules, the Animal Cruelty laws and Codes of Practice.

All the states and territories have their own road rules legislation although in practice they are pretty much identical and just vary by title.

Here’s a screenshot from the NSW Road Rules 2014 (updated November 2019).

The text in the image says:

“A driver must not drive a vehicle unless the driver has proper control of the vehicle.”

“A driver must not drive a vehicle if a person or an animal is in the driver’s lap.”

“A driver must not drive a motor vehicle unless the driver has a clear view of the road, and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver.”

“The rider of a motor bike must not ride with an animal on the motor bike between the rider and the handle bars.”

So that’s pretty clear – you can’t let dog stop you being in control of your vehicle, and they must not sit in your lap.


The legislation also says:

“The driver of a motor vehicle must not lead an animal, including by tethering the animal to the motor vehicle, unless the driver is permitted to do so under another law of this jurisdiction.” and

“A person who is a passenger in, or on any part of, a motor vehicle must not lead an animal while the motor vehicle is moving unless the passenger is permitted to do so under another law of this jurisdiction.”

Hilarious! If you are too sick or lazy to walk your dog, it’s time to call a dog walker 😉


As well as the legislation, there are road user handbooks that distil the legislation and make it easier to read.

In NSW the Road Users Handbook tells us that:

“Animals should be seated or housed in appropriate areas. A driver must not drive with an animal in the driver’s lap. A motor cycle rider must not ride with an animal between the handlebars and the rider.”

In the ACT, the 2019 ACT Road Rule Handbook suggests that animals need to be restrained.


Confusingly although the NSW handbook states it, there is nothing in the original legislation that tells us that “animals should be seated or housed in appropriate areas” and there is no guidance as to where those appropriate areas are (apart from not in the driver’s lap!). There is no requirement in any state’s legislation for the animal to be restrained.

It is a commonly held belief that front seat riding is not permitted but it’s not the law. There is no legislation that says an animal cannot travel in the front seat, unless perhaps they are a giant breed that entirely blocks your view of the passenger side window! However there are other reasons* why you probably shouldn’t let your dog in the front seat.

*info on the dangers of airbags also coming soon


Animal Cruelty

Now let’s have a look at the rules around animal cruelty and whether transport is mentioned.

The NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 No. 200 does not include requirements around restraints or how an animal should be transported within a vehicle, with the exception that they should not be put in pain whatever method you choose.

There ARE rules of transport on the back of utes or in a trailer – they should be restrained so they can’t fall out. Fines of up to $5,500 could apply here.

I’ve seen written many times that an owner may face cruelty charges if their animal is not restrained and is then injured in an accident but I have yet to find where this is included in legislation and I have never heard of anyone being fined or prosecuted for this. It seems unlikely to me that anyone would press charges against an owner grieving for their pet!


Codes of Practice

There are also codes of practice for animal transport businesses like Dogspeed, for example the NSW Animal Welfare Code of Practice No 1 – Companion animal transport agencies. This absolutely does include suggestions for restraints and crates but it does not apply to everyday dog owners. These codes are also voluntary and not legally binding.


So in summary…

…There are few legal requirements for transporting a dog. As long as you don’t let it ride on your lap and make sure it is tethered or crated safely on a ute, from a legal standpoint you are ok.

And remember, don’t walk your dog from the car :)!

However, this is just the legal bit!

How would you feel if your dog was hurt while you were driving? Pretty bad! Luckily there are a lot of options for keeping your pet safe in the car and I talk about them here. (link coming soon)

Check out my other articles about dog safety (coming soon)!



How to travel safely with your dog – the legal bit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *