In-car pet restraint tests show poor effectiveness

The US Center for Pet Safety has released a video demonstrating how commercially available pet restraints are failing to protect pets and human occupants during crashes.

Recent testing of car restraints for pets has shown that harness performance during vehicle impacts fall short of the necessary protection for both animals and accompanying vehicle passengers.

The testing was carried out by non-profit organisation, the Center for Pet Safety using an independent test laboratory in tests which apply to child safety restraints in accordance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Standard 213.

An equivalent standard doesn’t exist for pets, something that the Center for Pet Safety hopes to address through this demonstration. The products that were used for the testing were harnesses from manufacturers who are well respected with the pet equipment industry and were tested on a crash test dummy dog which was designed, weighted and built to be as realistic as possible and conforming to the parameters of the top 6 dog breeds identified by the American Kennel Club. The dog design was an important part of the test with its internal structure providing the correct weight distribution and external profiling designed to ensure that harnesses fit the test dummy in the same way that they would fit a real dog.

The crash testing was performed on four pet restraints with videos available of their performance available on the Center for Pet Safety’s website. The one included below shows that the impact of one test resulted in a multi-point harness failure which failed to restrain the dog which suffered high impact forces as it collided with the rear of the front car seats. Such an impact would certainly have resulted in the death of the dog and may have caused injury to vehicle occupants.

The purpose of the testing was to raise awareness of the need for harness standards and testing protocols for products designed to restrain pets in cars.

TrafficSafe contacted the Center for Pet Safety’s founder, Lindsey Wolko, to find out more about the activities of the not-for-profit road safety organisation. We started by asking Lindsey why the Center for Pet Safety had been founded:

In the US there is much marketing swirl and conjecture about pet products but here is little oversight to this industry outside of consumables such as pet food, chemically made toys and veterinary drugs.  There is no required testing that a manufacturer must perform before marketing these safety devices and some manufacturers do a better job than others. For those pet product manufacturers that do any harness testing, they specify what type of test they want and then execute it according to their own protocol which is where things get cloudy for the consumer. They can claim that the product has been ‘tested’ but products from different manufacturers haven’t been tested to the same protocol so you’re not comparing eggs with eggs. That’s why the Center for Pet Safety was founded, to independently determine appropriate performance criteria and testing protocols and ensure that the consumer will have a valid means of making comparisons”.

The analysis is described on the organization’s website as a “pilot study”, implying that further tests are planned. We asked Lindsey about these future plans and what tests can the US public expect in the future.

“Yes, we are planning to further our research to include a larger size range of harnesses and pet travel products in general. We need ample data collection to publish a standard needed to support safer harness designs.  From our pilot study, we have determined there is additional data which would be important to capture and we are working on developing a more robust crash test dog that will assist us with that data collection.  Continuing funding is necessary to further our research and we are currently working to obtain the funding needed to support our mission in the coming year.”

The test results didn’t include the names of the manufacturers of the failed restraints so TrafficSafe asked Lindsey Wolko if there are any plans to make the names of the manufacturers public knowledge.

“Pet product safety is a concern shared by both consumers and manufacturers and we understand why consumers want to know the brand names tested in the pilot study conducted by the Center for Pet Safety. However, CPS is not yet in a position to reveal the names of individual products or brand names.

“Our primary concern is NOT to attack individual manufacturers for selling well-intentioned products. If we share brands at this early stage in our work, we shift the focus away from what is truly needed.

“Our primary concern IS the need for measurable, safe standards that manufacturers can follow for the benefit of consumers. After these standards are in place, we can then work with manufacturers to develop safe, tested products.

“In other words, manufacturers are not ignoring safety standards. There simply are no existing standards in place. This is not the fault of the manufacturer. Pet product safety is an emerging issue, and the Center for Pet Safety was formed to address it.  Additional product testing and the creation of meaningful standards are sorely needed to protect the animals we love.”

TrafficSafe asked if the Center for Pet Safety has any confirmed statistics regarding casualties (both canine and human) resulting from unrestrained animals in road traffic accidents.

“Currently, only human casualties from automobile accidents are officially tracked within the USA. Any statistics currently available are largely from consumer surveys or largely anecdotal in context.  There are some US insurance companies that do track claims against their dog related auto insurance policies, however their data is proprietary and we have been unable to source that information.  As part of our model, we do intend to pursue this type of data collection from other entities within the USA, however that component of our mission is secondary to our research.”

We asked about the opinions of the harness manufacturers themselves about the research being conducted by the Center for Pet Safety to which Lindsey replied:

“I have personally spoken to some harness manuafacturers (and pet product manufacturers in general) and they have agreed that standards would help them.  It would help them make better products and help them mitigate risk.  Their concern however, is the additional cost associated to their product development and product testing.  The manufacturers I have spoken with are genuinely concerned about companion animal and consumer safety and have applauded our mission.  Unfortunately, since we are working to become an oversight organization, we are unable to accept donations from pet product manufacturers.  It could construe bias – and therefore damage our mission.  We need to remain independent of the pet product industry and source our funding from outside of that industry.”

The issue of how pets can be safely transported in vehicles is beginning to come under greater scrutiny in America, largely surrounding the more general concern of distracted driving. Laws are being passed in some states concerning the need to restrain animals whilst in transit but these laws are generally more focused on the issue of distraction rather then the prevention of injury to pets or human occupants. Using restraints of those kinds that are currently on the market certainly conforms to the principles of reducing potential distraction but a great deal of further work is needed to ensure that products that are on the market for restraining pets in cars meet a standard which is adequate to provide the necessary protection to pets and other vehicle occupants during collisions.

The Center of Pet Safety is engaged in admirable work designed to raise this issue to the level it deserves which will result in standards being set and met within this niche industry.

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