JoAnna Lou
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Crumple Zones and Car Safety
Keeping dogs safe in the car can be problematic

Like many others, my dogs ride in the back of my SUV, secure in their crates. I've always been under the impression that my pups were safe in their plastic kennels, although after being rear ended, I wondered if the cargo area of my car wasn't the best place for the dogs. I've since moved one crate to the back seat, but unless I buy a bigger car, I don't have the option of moving all my dogs out of the cargo area.


Recently, I discovered that the cargo area may be even more dangerous that I previously thought. A safety feature called the crumple zone, introduced to cars in the 50s, is designed to absorb the impact in a crash and protect passengers. The crumple zones are often likened to crushing a soda can, sacrificing everything in its path.

The most popular crumple zone locations are in the front and the rear of the car. For anyone who puts their dogs in the back, this is absolutely terrifying.

Next time I buy a car, I will certainly ask the dealer where the crumple zones are in prospective models. In the meantime, I looked online to find out where the crumple zones are in my Honda CR-V, and they are indeed at the front and back of the car.

I know that the hard, plastic kennels are very strong, but in a serious accident they're unlikely to stand up to the crumple zone. It's possible I could put my dogs in seat belts in the back seat, but that industry isn't regulated and most seat belts do not undergo any crash testing. So it's still a dilemma for me.

How do you protect your dogs in the car?



JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Mike McCaffrey/flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Frances | May 3 2011 |

Mine travel in a crate on the back seat. I would not trust any part of the vehicle that was not designed for humans, for exactly the reasons you describe!

Submitted by Erin | May 3 2011 |

Right now, due to space in my small hatchback, one crate is on the back seat and one in the cargo area.

I'm looking for a new vehicle in the next few years and I'm leaning toward a mid-size SUV. One of the reasons I'd like a larger vehicle is that I can find one with a third row that can be folded down, thus allowing all crates to be in a passenger compartment instead of a crumple zone.

Submitted by Anne | May 4 2011 |

Mine also travels in a crate on the back seat. I was in an accident where he came out of it better than I did, since the air bag deployed and I went to a massage therapist for a while afterwards. I assume in a regular sedan, the rear crumple zone would be the trunk.

Submitted by Jennifer | May 3 2011 |

Thank you for posting this article, very timely as I was just wondering about the same thing! I even have the same model car using a wire crate for my dog. I think I'll try moving the crate as closed to the front seats as I can since no one sits in the back anyways (they fold up rather than down flat in the 2006 model). I wonder if any vet schools/organizations have a suggestion for the safest option?

Submitted by Tammy | October 8 2013 |

The Center for Pet Safety has conducted crash-tests on harnesses. See their unbiased report here http://centerforpetsafety.org/ (scroll to bottom to download the full report). Amazing to me that only one harness passed as a "top performer". I've purchased one each for my two Border Collies to secure them on the back passenger seat. This is the only way mine will travel from now on.

Submitted by www.wootube.net | May 3 2011 |

I drive an SUV and I have 5 dogs - I have no choice but to crate at least a couple of them in the crumple zone. Previously I drove a mini-van and the dogs were all crated in the back as well. I was rear-ended twice - the second time my minivan was totaled - and the dogs and crates were fine. I think while safety is important, being aware that we can't live in a bubble is also important. The only way to ensure 100% that your dogs aren't crumpled in a car is not to put them in one.

I know a gal whose crated dogs drowned when her car flipped upside down in a ditch. I know a fella whose uncrated dogs were ejected from the car in a crash and one of them was fatally run over on the highway. Sometimes there is no "win." At the very least, crated dogs can't distract the driver (know of another man who turned to scold his fighting dogs in the back of his truck, crossed the center line, hit another car and died. So did the dogs) and hopefully crates will offer some measure of protection. All you can do is try and be as safe as you can.

Submitted by Jackie | May 3 2011 |

I have an SUV and my dogs are in the back seat for the exact reason in this article. Unfortunately crates won't work in my back seat as my two dogs are larger, but they are restained to limit movement. I feel the "middle" of the vehicle is safe/safer. Ive never felt comfortable with a dog in the cargo area.

Submitted by Linda | May 3 2011 |

I had a dog harness that fastened to the back seat's belt of my little around town Toyota and Harley also had some elbow and lay down room as well. That and careful driving kept both of us safe.

Submitted by Hannah B. | May 3 2011 |

My friend had a accident and her rear end was smushed, BUT the wire crates (thankfully w/ no dogs) that were right there, were NOT injured! The dogs woulda been safe. Albeit it the rear door wouldn't open and they woulda had to use bolt cutters to get the dogs out. So, buy bolt cutters!
My kid has to ride in a doggy seatbelt (RuffRider, designed to Human Crash Test standards) in one car, otherwise it's wire crates in the back of a SUV and they are away from the back a bit.....
I knew a person who got T-Boned and the dog survived, tho the vari kennel was cracked.....make sure u get a good strong crate, seatbelt!

Submitted by Hannah B. | May 3 2011 |

for those who have seatbelts, make sure they are crash tested!!!! or the buckles/fastners WONT come undone in a crash!!! a lot of the "seatbelts" out there are just modified harnesses and wouldn't do diddly in a wreck!!! And some let the dog "fly" a few feet then get yanked backwards....yah it's a seatbelt, keeps them from flyin thru the windshield but OUCHIE!! talk bout whip lash!!

Submitted by Jess | May 3 2011 |

I had not considered the crumple zones when shopping for a new dog hauler. We just expanded our pack to three retired racing greyhounds, and I've been looking for something like an SUV to allow me to bring all 3 with me (oh, and my husband too...) Anyone have any suggestions? I guess I thought I was taking enough into consideration by looking for a vehicle that will allow me to affix wire crates to the floor of the vehicle. This solution, however, would not take the crumple zones into play. Any thoughts? Does anyone have a safe solution for three large dogs?

Submitted by Suzanne | May 3 2011 |

We have an Element and a Rav 4. I will certainly be moving the crates forward. Easier to do in the Element with back seats down. Rav4 is smaller and when seats go down 2 crates may not fit behind front seat. Very concerning as my dogs are precious to me.

Submitted by Jen | May 3 2011 |

I let 'em hang their heads out the window and do whatever they want (as long as they stay out of the driver's seat!). If they die during a car ride, believe me, those will be some of the happiest dogs in heaven. Life is for living, and no dog I know is happy riding in a crate when there's an open window just right there.

Submitted by Margaret Helman | April 10 2014 |

What about your own life? Your dogs become projectiles in the vehicle and a 60 pound dog shot across a car is lethal to anyone it hits

Submitted by Lalis mom | May 3 2011 |

I know I am taking chances, but Lali rides in the front passenger seat and is not restrained. I bought a nice harness but she was too much the puppy and wanted to chew on it, and we need to work on that...I do have a strap kind of gadget made to slip over the seat belt before latching it, and this strap has the latch to hook to a collar or leash...however anything that seems to give them some freedom of movement, would also allow them to be thrown at least some. She likes to curl up in the passenger seat and rest her head on the middle console/emergency brake or my leg.

The best thing anyone car manufacturer could come out with would be a pet-friendly option package...maybe a set of steps that would be able to be let down for older pups to board, a back seat floor filler (and maybe one for the front as well), and some sort of open cage/container that would fit either the front passenger or back seat offering reinforced protection that wouldn't be too noticable. They also need to have on/off switches for the airbag mechanisms.

BTW...I have a friend who is a petsitter and it makes me absolutely crazy that she sometimes will put a pup in the far back of her PT Cruiser...

Submitted by Anonymous | May 3 2011 |

What about putting the kennels in the back seat and bucking the seat belts around them?

Submitted by Lizzi | May 3 2011 |

Personally I would be careful about what crates you use in the car. I've seen crash tests where plastic crates basically exploded when the dog hit the side in the crash, and I've heard of accidents where the crates broken open and dogs ended up running in the highway.

I use a strength-rated dog seatbelt for my dogs, and they sit in the rear seat.
Also keep in mind a lot of so-called seatbelts or car harnesses are NOT made to hold up in an accident! If your dog's harness uses a plastic buckle to hold the dog in, I would not expect it to hold the dog in an accident. If you read the packaging a lot of these will even say right on there that they are meant to restrain a dog during normal driving condition only. Only a few seatbelt harnesses out there are actually safety-tested or strength rated.

Submitted by LauraG | October 9 2013 |

True - only the Mim Safe Variocage has been crash tested.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 3 2011 |

Oh man, I never put two and two together! I know about crumple zones, didn't even think to link them to the back of the car with the cargo area!

I have a mini van. The middle seat is completely removed, the back one is left in. The cargo goes in the rear. My dogs ride in crates in the middle, where the seat was.

I didn't like the idea of them riding in the cargo area and completely out of my sight and reach. I wanted to be able to access them quickly if something should happen.

I left the back bench seat in for those times I wanted to relax at a show and for the occasions when I am carrying my 8 y.o. nephew or more than one passenger.

Submitted by Elisa Becker | May 3 2011 |

This is a great article. I have a 2002 Honda CRV as well and my dog also rides in a crate in the back. As I have spent some time looking at new cars I have also looked into other options of places to put crates. I currently have my dogs crate all the way up against the front passenger seat. The nice part about the CRV is the 60/40 split. So I have the 60 down and only one seat available in the back. When I decided to use the crate I knew that I wanted it to be as far away from the back door as possible for exactly that reason - what happens if I get rear ended?
I don't really know what the right car configuration is, but I do feel that dogs being in crates are the safest way to go. When my dog was a puppy and before I had the crate I would seat belt her in the backseat. She figured out how to undo the seatbelt. She would pace back and forth until she stepped on the seat belt there fore releasing her restraint. It became a dangerous situation on more than one occasion, especially when she learned how to push the button on the back door to roll down the window. Because I do not have children I have a feeling that my next car will have fold flat rear seats and her crate may be up against both the driver's seat and the front passenger seat so there is lots of room between her crate and the rear of the car. Then I guess all I have to do is hope I don't get hit from either side of the car.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2011 |

My dogs travel in harnesses/seat belts in the back seat. I know they are not crash tested but I have ones made from the same material as seat belts so I feel pretty safe.

Submitted by Kelley Denz | May 4 2011 |

I did not think about crumple zones until now. I have always told clients and written articles indicating if you have your dog in a crate he/she is safe. I am going to have to re-think that logic.

Just wanted to also let you know there is one seatbelt for dogs that has been crashed tested. The PetBuckle has been crashed tested here is a link to the crash test http://youtu.be/Ts4sMQA4zqA

The only problem I have found with this seatbelt is it tends to move around on your dog some. I have two dogs it stays in place on one and moves with the other. I still use it because its made from the same material as human seat belts and has be crash tested.

Here is the full review I wrote if you're interested in reading it. Pet Seat belt

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2011 |

Mine rides in the back seat, wears a seat belt every time.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 6 2012 |

YOu should take a look at some of the videos on youtube of dogs who were seatbelted in. The vast majority on the market do little to keep the dog safe and some even add to the danger. In some instances, the latches of the harness do not stay secure and snap open during the impact, providing no security to the pet. In others, the dog is violently thrown backward, often after slamming into the bottom of the seat, potentially causing whiplash and spinal injuries.

Submitted by Anonymous | January 3 2013 |

Most dog seatbelts don't work. Check out these video clips of how the harnesses break during an impact -

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2011 |

Our 'kids' ride in the back seat, wearing seatbelt harnesses and safely belted in. They are able to look out of the windows and lie down to snooze.

Submitted by Mandy | May 4 2011 |

You might be interested in this document: Securing Pets in Cars http://wachusett.pssweb.net/Test%20report%20pets%20in%20cars-1.pdf

It's a foreign scientific study that was done to determine the safest way to transport pets. I was shocked at what happened to the crates secured by a seatbelt! And almost all of the harness restraints on the market are a total joke, which is no surprise since so many of them have plastic buckles. They conclude that the safest way to transport is in a crate, firmly positioned in a footwell if it will fit.

But one product they don't evaluate in this document is the IMMI Pet Buckle, which is the only one that actually passes crash testing, and is what we usually recommend as Child Passenger Safety Technicians when advising parents how to protect their children from a pet as a projectile in a crash. It can be connected to the seatbelt or directly to the lower anchors that are used to install car seats, and is made of seat-belt grade material. You can find many online retailers by Googling the product name.

Submitted by Megan & Caleb | May 4 2011 |

This is why I drive a Volvo XC90. My biggest concern is someone hitting me from the back so both our cars (the other being a Subura OUtback) have been rated as top safety picks. The dogs ride lose in the car around town but for road trips they are crated, we put down the seats, moves the crates as far forward as possible and they are bolted down.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2011 |

Ruff Rider makes a crash-tested doggie seat belt. One large-size restraint costs $52. I would highly recommend it. See http://www.ruffrider.com/ for more information.

Submitted by Heather | May 5 2011 |

i always put my dog (Peanut) in a purpose made seat belt. i live in england, so we perhaps have different makes, so i can't recommend one in particular. But once i had to brake really, really hard to avoid hitting someone who just walked out onto the road without looking, and although the force shot him forward, the seat belt stopped him from serious harm, he was just a bit put out to find himself nearly in the footwell! i've put dogsin either the front or the back seats, but never without a seat belt, and i wouldn't put them in the boot in case i was rear-ended.

Submitted by Julie Foster | September 6 2012 |

There's a Swedish crate now being imported to the US that is made to work with the crumple zones of cars. Mighty Mite Dog Gear is carrying it and there's a video on their webpage showing how the crate was tested. http://www.mightymitedoggear.com/MIM_Variocage_crash_tested_Dog_Car_Crat...

Submitted by Anonymous | September 6 2012 |

Cool. Thanks for posting.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 13 2012 |

Does anyone know how the sizing works on the variocage? I'm trying to decide whether one will fit into my Outback. I haven't seen any stores. It looks like you can only buy them on line.

Submitted by Tracy | December 12 2012 |

There's some sizing info on the Mighty Mite Website you can download. When I called them, they were very helpful and they directed me to this page. http://www.mightymitedoggear.com/Variocage%20_Vehicle_Fitting_Guide.xls You can find your car make there. There's also instructions on how to measure your car on the site if you scroll down the page. A friend of mine is knows the owner and she directed me to them. I've been recomended the company now to my students as well (I'm a trainer). Good customer service and very helpful.

Submitted by Toni | January 3 2013 |

As a general rule of thumb, cars are designed to protect people. So the seating area is generally a reinforced frame with crumple zones on each end to absorb impact. I have been in your situation with three dogs and a CRV. I ended up seat belting my dogs in the back seat vs putting them in cargo. A less than ideal trade off to be sure! At year end sales, I traded the CRV for an Odyssey van with 3 rows of seats. Hence the reinforced frame encompasses a significant part of the car. I now have several option: drop the rear seats into the floor and tie down two crates (am ordering tuff crates) when only traveling withe two dogs - which is most of the time; drop the rear and pull out one of the middle seats to create room for a third crate. Or pull out all the middle seats and then drop one or all third row seats for an 8'x4' flat floor within the reinforced part of the car to hold multiple crates and cargo. Pilots also have three rows of seats - and then there are options for three seat SUVs or vans from various car makers. I loved my CRV but ended up swallowing less gas Milage in xchange for a safer ride for my pups.
Depending on the the size of your crates, an option for the CRV might be to fold the backseats down and forward, then tie down crates to the floor tie downs right behind the folded down back seats. At least they are as far forward as possible. Another thing to do is ensure there are no hard water dishes in the crates for them to crash into. Do not leave loose objects in the car to turn into flying projectiles (keep everything in a secured box or bag).
Keep dog info with photos, emergency contact info, and guarantees of vet and boarding payment in the car.
Do not use bungee cords tie down crates - get tie down straps from the hardware store.
In the end, after following various huge search and rescue efforts from multiple dogs lost as a result of car crashes, it seems that luck and the kind of crash play a big part. Beyond that, do what you can do as well as you can. The "ideal" situation seems to be a safe car, dogs within a safe area of the car, secured as well as you can within the space available in an environ free of potential missiles and with good info available for first responders. Drive defensively and get off the road when you start to get tired. Those are lessons I've settled on from 2012 search and rescues. Safe roads to all!

Submitted by Kathryn S | February 12 2013 |

in crates, facing forward ( turn them after dog enters ) on the second row of passenger seat in my Nissan Quest; have to carry a wheelchair lift in the 'cargo' area - but the side doors have air bags that I cannot disable so crates get 'turned'- the passenger seats are turned 'down' so there is a flat area; and crates are bungied. Obviously this works for small dogs, would have to make different arrangements for a med or large dog.

More From The Bark

More in JoAnna Lou:
OSU's Full Time Pet Therapy Program
Canine Hero Returns to Ground Zero
Dogs Prefer Petting Over Praise
Microchip Brings Dog Home Eight Years Later
Canine Curriculum for Kids
Jealousy in Dogs
Shelter Pets at the Emmys
Making Tumors Glow
3-D Printed Dog Cart
New Sport: UpDog