Can Animals Ride in a Towed Vehicle?

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Is it acceptable to have animals stay in a towed vehicle? Indeed, can animals ride in a towed vehicle, and is it legal to do so? It’s an unusual situation for sure…

For owners of an RV, camper van, or truck, then the possibility exists that there will be a time when they might choose to tow a vehicle behind them. This can be for a variety of reasons include necessity, the need to transport multiple vehicles together, or because the towed vehicle is going to a garage because it needs to get serviced or cannot be currently driven.

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There’s also the possibility of a vehicle being towed by a third party due to it being considered illegally parked, because of unpaid parking tickets or for other random reasons. An animal could still be inside while a vehicle is being towed too.

Can Animals Ride in a Towed Vehicle? While there some state laws relate to animals in towed vehicles, often the laws offer sporadic clarity. Many dog or animal-related laws overlap with towed vehicles. As such, there is no clear answer nationwide. Eight or more states, as of 2009, required dogs specifically to be secured or restrained if they are in the rear of a vehicle – such as the bed or a truck – which is an open area.

Some states have extremely specific laws relating to the transportation of animals, especially dogs. For the most part, animals should be in a dog harness or a cage to prevent them from being able to jump out. This will help you comply with most of the applicable laws. However, responsible animal owners must confirm for themselves what the case is for their state and any they travel through if their animal(s) will be in a towed vehicle.

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The question of whether animals can ride in a towed vehicle is not a common situation. Due to this, there’s not always present legislation covering this specific issue. It appears that there are considerable inconsistencies between states as to what animal owners should do.

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Can Animals Ride in a Towed Vehicle?

It’s possible.

Some RV, camper van, or truck owners have pleasure vehicles as well. This might be an off-road vehicle that they tow behind their RV.

Out of Convenience

While it would be unusual to keep any animals in a towed vehicle, it might be done out of convenience. Driving and towing a vehicle behind is complicated. To meet the concentration level required, some RV and animal owners might choose to have their pets in the towed vehicle to get them out of the way. The thinking might be that it’s one less thing to worry about.

Due to a Breakdown or Accident

It’s also possible that the secondary vehicle either has a breakdown, or the vehicle is involved in a minor collision.

At this point, it may make sense to avoid the cost of a tow truck and simply tow it yourself. This is with the caveat that it’s still safe to do so and the towed vehicle is legally roadworthy. Something like this needs to be determined at that time. It’s always safer to get the vehicle removed from the road and transported on a tow truck to a garage than to try to do it yourself.  

Can Animals Ride in a Towed Vehicle

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Transport a Pet in the Bed of an Open Pickup Truck

A distinction is made under various state laws for animals, often specifically dogs, riding in an open area. The ‘dog in the back of a truck law’ commonly refers to a scenario where a dog is in the back of a pick-up truck in the truck’s bed.

The risk here is that the animals could move around or get injured with a sudden turn or sharp deceleration. They could become frightened and leap from the vehicle into oncoming traffic. Because of these potential risks, at least 8 states have laws (as of 2009) relating to securing them when they’re in an open area of a vehicle.

Some states like Connecticut and New Hampshire have dog-related laws connecting pick-up trucks and transporting dogs in the bed. These should be reviewed specifically as they’re distinct from one another and what other states have made into law.

The bottom line with open bed areas is that animals may be transported in the back of a pickup truck only if they’re confined to a container or cage [affiliate link] that’s secured to it. This avoids their free or unintended movement including the risk of them jumping out of the back of the truck, or even across to another moving vehicle.

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Animals Riding in an Enclosed Area

In most situations with RVs, camper vans, or trucks, an animal such as a dog or cat will be situated in an enclosed area. They will be inside the body of the vehicle. Only if a door is opened will they be able to escape. This is often considered a minimally acceptable standard.

Different states view the transportation of animals differently – most commonly mentioned is dogs – when inside a towed vehicle. Some are fine with a dog unsecured but inside the vehicle as long as it’s enclosed at all times (including no windows being open where they could jump out).

Other states require a dog or other non-livestock animals to be in a cage or otherwise restrained with a dog harness to prevent their movement. This ensures they cannot roam around, get stuck in an awkward position, or become injured due to the erratic movements of the vehicle when undertow.

Of course, it’s sensible to protect your animals, especially beloved pets, by having them secured in a dog car safety harness [affiliate link] or a cage [affiliate link] while underway. It both protects you from getting distracted while driving and better ensures their safety too.

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Transporting Animals in a Cruel or Unsafe Manner

Animal owners have a duty to protect their pets. This includes when they are transporting them.

Many states have specific laws relating to animal protection that do relate to animals in towed vehicles.

For instance, Washington has a misdemeanor law that prohibits the transportation of animals in a manner that is unsafe to the public or the animal. It is up to the State Trooper to determine whether a case applies or not. The penalties can include a fine and possible time in the county jail. So, it’s not something to disregard.

Nevada takes it even more seriously with steeper potential fines and the possibility of several months behind bars for the guilty party.

Furthermore, both California and Massachusetts also have laws relating to the humane transportation of animals. These laws are worth looking up for people traveling through these states.

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Personal Research is Warranted

As a legal disclaimer, we’re not lawyers. Therefore, the information provided in this article should never be construed as legal advice.

Questions like is it legal to ride in a towed vehicle or is it legal to ride in a camper being towed, should be ideally answered by someone with legal training. The above information is simply what we’ve discovered through online research, which is not infallible. Please do review what’s permissible within your home state and any that you’ll be driving through with a towed vehicle.

While having dogs in a travel trailer or dogs in a camper can be quite normal, a towed vehicle is seen as something separate and different. Dogs, for instance, are regularly transported inside trailers designed for this purpose. However, they’re configured with secure areas, cooling systems, water, food, and more to make the dogs as comfortable as possible.

Animals in a towed vehicle are in a distinct class of their own.

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RV Fridge Turned Off During Towing?

As a side note, if your RV or trailer are being towed and there’s a propane-fueled refrigerator that needs to be turned off, what do you do?

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Closing Thoughts

Transporting your animals in a towed vehicle behind your RV, truck, or camper van should only be considered as a last resort. Animals should also be either restrained in a dog car safety harness [affiliate link] to partially restrict their movement or better, in a cage [affiliate link] to more strictly limited their movement potential.

Putting your animals – particularly one or more dogs or cats – in a towed vehicle, unsecured, and on their own is a bad idea. In some states, it may well be illegal and in others, it is up to the officer or trooper to determine on the scene whether it constitutes cruelty or unsafe conditions. It’s always going to be better to have the animals anywhere else but in a towed vehicle, if at all possible.

If in doubt, don’t do it.

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