How to Keep You and Your Pet Safe in an Auto Emergency

Katie Collins
Katie Collins

According to a recent survey, it is estimated that 85 million families in the United States own at least one pet. That makes up 67% of the population. Many new pet owners are choosing pet ownership over starting families, and love and treat their pets as children. Being a responsible pet owner means being prepared. We’ve put together a useful guide on how to keep you and your pet safe in an auto emergency.

You may be a good, responsible driver, but accidents happen. Auto insurance may give you peace of mind when hitting the road, but does that protection cover your pets? People aren’t the only ones that can get hurt during an auto emergency. Pets are just as vulnerable to sustaining injuries caused by car accidents as we are, so whether you make a quick trip to the vet or take your pet along on a fun-filled road trip, you need to be sure they are as protected as you are.

Pet safety and driving safety tips go a long way in avoiding damage or injury during auto emergencies. However, when push comes to shove, can you rely on auto or pet insurance to cover the costs involved?  

Possible emergency situations with pets in your car are endless, but let’s cover some of the most common scenarios.

Most dogs absolutely love the open road. Once that window is down, that head pops out, and it’s all ears and tongues flapping in the wind. But have you considered the potential dangers of letting your dog hang its head out the window?

Debris, insects, and other foreign objects can cause havoc when they hit your dog’s eyes, ears, or mouth. Things can go very wrong for your dog when something hits them at the right angle or speed.

Open car windows also create an opportunity for your pet to jump or fall out of the vehicle. Needless to say, once that happens, your pet faces serious dangers that are entirely out of your control. They could get hit by oncoming traffic or run away and get lost.

Choking on treats or toys is another danger your pet faces. You may think treats and chew toys are great for distracting your pet in the car, but dogs are as likely to choke on foreign objects while driving as they are anywhere else. The only difference is you may not notice your attention is focused on the road.

A AAA-sponsored survey found an estimated 16% of pet owners traveling with their pets don’t use any form of restraints. This number is very high, considering what an easy precaution restraining a pet in a car is.

An accident or other emergencies are scary for everyone, including your pet. If your pet isn’t restrained, chances are they will get startled and run away after the accident. This, of course, causes an additional string of problems. The first danger of a scared dog fleeing a scene is oncoming traffic.

The second problem is you can’t give an injured dog potentially life-saving treatment when they run away. The more time that passes after a dog is injured, the worse off the injuries. 

Lastly, there is the combination of traffic and animals roaming the streets. It’s a recipe for disaster. An animal in the road poses a safety threat to itself, motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. If your dog is the cause of damage to people or their property, things can get quite complicated once the insurance companies get involved.

Auto insurance ensures we aren’t solely responsible for dealing with the financial consequences of being in, or causing, an auto accident. The main use for auto insurance? Auto collisions.

We’ve heard it a thousand times: distracted driving is a common cause of accidents on the road. U.S. states with the highest numbers of fatal car accidents report distracted drivers cause a third of fatal accidents. Common distractions include electronics and gadgets, children, eating, drinking, smoking, and unrestrained pets. 

If you and your pet are in an auto collision, and your pet runs away, stay calm. Don’t blindly run after your pet, and straight into traffic. See which direction your pet is heading in, and when it’s safe, follow.  Shouting your dog’s name will only scare them more, so use a gentle tone to coax them back to you, or lure them with treats or toys if you have them at hand.

If your pet does get lost, your first port of call is social media. Post pictures of your pet on local “lost & found” groups and animal welfare pages with a description of your pet, where they were last seen, and your contact details.

Visit animal shelters daily and look for your pet. Print “lost” flyers (preferably waterproof) and hand them out in the area. Give a copy to law enforcement agencies, veterinarians, animal care or control officials, and local businesses.

If your dog has a microchip, remember to visit the website with which you registered your pet’s microchip and list your pet as “missing.”

Auto insurance coverage for bad weather and natural disasters is especially important in states that are prone to wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, or landslides.

Snow, heavy rainfall, sleet, and heavy winds also often cause road accidents. Driving in bad weather means slippery roads, reduced visibility, extreme temperatures, and the potential danger of getting stuck in a traffic standstill for a prolonged period of time.

When it comes to natural disasters, there are a few simple safety tips to follow. Get off the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Don’t find shelter in tunnels, under bridges, or any other structure that might come down or get flooded. Keep yourself, your pet, and other passengers as low down in the vehicle as possible.

Locking your pet in the car (along with your keys) is a very dangerous situation, especially in extreme weather conditions. It takes mere minutes for a car to heat up to the point that an animal may suffocate due to lack of oxygen.

If your pet is locked in the car, you need to get a window open. Even if that means smashing it. A dog trapped in a hot car needs hydration and to be cooled down (slowly)

It may come as a surprise, but many insurance companies have a plan that covers this scenario. Anyone who loses control of their vehicle near a large body of water risks heading straight into it. Heavy rainfall and flash floods also pose a threat. Regardless of the cause, there are simple yet effective steps you can take to get everyone out of the car.

According to cold water submersion expert Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht, the simple mantra “Seatbelts, Windows, Out (Children First)” can save your (and your pet’s) life.

  • Seatbelts: Take your seatbelt off the moment you hit the water.
  • Window: If you can’t open the windows, break them. Always go for the driver or passenger windows first.
  • Out (Children First): Unbuckle kids (oldest to youngest) and your pets, and push them out of the open window.

Always call 911 first in the event of an emergency. If your pet is injured, call your vet or emergency animal hospital and then contact your auto insurance company to file a claim. If your pet is not covered by your auto insurance you can always look into pet insurance.

Fortunately for pet parents, there are auto insurance companies that do cover pets. However, you should never simply assume that your insurance does. Unless your policy or plan clearly states that it covers pets in case of an accident (personal or 3rd party), you’ll need to read the fine print to find out whether pets are specifically excluded before you submit a claim.

Here are some auto insurance companies that do cover pets:

Chubb has one of the highest pet-related payouts. With their Masterpiece Auto Preference policy, you can claim up to $2000 if your pet gets injured in an auto accident. This policy is not available in all states.

Erie Auto Insurance is not available in all states, but their policies do include pet coverage. However, their payout limit is restricted to $500 per cat or dog, and their overall payout for medical expenses and vet bills is $1,000.

Metromile’s collision plan covers cats and dogs with a payout of up to $1,000 in medical expenses. They also offer you compensation if your pet is stolen from the car, or killed during an accident.

The Progressive collision coverage plan includes coverage for injured pets at no additional cost. However, the maximum payout for pet-related damages or vet bills is capped at $1,000. If you have the pet of a family member who lives with you in your car, the plan also covers that pet.

Be aware that most auto insurance companies reassess and potentially raise your rate once you have been in an accident and have made a claim. 

You may see them as fur children, but in the eyes of the law, pets are seen as property, which does make them very “insurable.” When a pet gets injured in an auto accident or emergency, that pet is considered “damaged property,” and someone is always liable to pay for those damages. 

Whether you or someone else caused the accident, hopefully, there is an insurance policy in play that will cover the damages. Even if neither policy has specific pet coverage, unless they specifically exclude “pets” in the fine print, you may be able to successfully submit a claim. 

Knowing the details of your auto insurance plan can provide peace of mind when it comes to protecting your pets and knowing they’ll be looked after should anything happen. 

Part of being a responsible pet owner is taking precautions to keep you and your pet safe in the car. Here are some tips that can help:

In an auto collision, safely securing your pet in the car can prevent damage and heartbreak. There are various ways to strap your pet in, just make sure you find the best method for your dog or cat. Some tips from The Bark include:

  1. Use a harness seatbelt
  2. Secure them with a zipline harness
  3. Make them travel in a crate
  4. Put them in a plush carry box
  5. Use a dog guard in the back of the car
  6. Put a pet hammock on the back seat
  7. Use a back seat barrier

If your pet gets lost, what better tool to help you find them than a collar that sends you their live location!

Whether there’s a fire hazard, your car’s submerged in water, or your pet is simply tangled up in harnesses or restraints, glass breaking and seat belt cutting tools are useful in emergency situations.

Have a designated person on standby who can take care of your dog in case you have to go to the hospital. Keep a “My pet needs help!” card in your purse with their contact details on it so that emergency services know who to call.

Even with insurance, additional costs can come up if your pet was injured in an accident and needs extensive treatment. To prevent having to surrender your pet due to lack of finances, set aside some money for unexpected vet bills.

In case of an emergency, your pet may need first aid. It only takes a little time and effort to get a first aid kit together for your pet, and being prepared can save your pet’s life.

  • Basic pet first aid kit medical supplies
  • Blanket
  • Bottled water
  • Collapsible food and water bowl
  • Collar, leash, harness and spare id tag
  • Emergency contacts
  • Flashlight
  • Medications your dog needs
  • Pet treats and food
  • Current photo of your pet
  • Vet booklet with vaccination records, your pet’s medical history, and their microchip number
  • Pet CPR cheat sheet

Pet parents only want what’s best for their furkids, but even those of us with the best intentions can let simple plans and preparations fall through the cracks. We live in a world where there is so much we have no control over. What we can control, however, is how prepared we are to handle what life throws at us. All we need is a plan.

A little preparation can go a long way in keeping you and your loved ones safe during an auto emergency. Hopefully, this guide offers you some useful steps you can take to protect your fur babies in an unpredictable world.