The seats in your car are probably not as strong as you think they are. And if you own a large dog, these seats won’t hold them back in an accident. Fortunately, I found a solution.
In the United States, the strength regulations for car seats are Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 207. The seats in your car must be able to withstand a force applied forwards or backwards and 20 times the weight of the seat itself. but allows a seat deflection of 40 degrees under this load. This is a problem because this force is static rather than dynamic (which is equivalent to slowly pushing or pulling on the seat), which does not take into account the incredibly fast objects of acceleration in a vehicle in an accident. It’s just not strong enough either.
Three years ago I wrote an article on dog safety restrictions that explained how ineffective and problematic most of them are. In it, I identified the main problem we all dog owners face: When falling at 35 mph, an uninhibited 60-pound dog becomes a projectile that flies forward at 2,700 pounds of force. Cars are designed for people, not dogs, so holding back a four-legged projectile is difficult.
Let’s say a seat weighs 50 pounds. To be sold in a car in the United States, it must be able to withstand up to 1,000 pounds of force. Put a 60 pound dog behind it, hit something immobile at 35 mph and your pup will generate almost three times as much force as it flies forward. The seat is unable to stop the dog from moving and that could kill him or any human passengers sitting in front of it.
All of this obviously applies beyond dogs. If hit from the rear, the front seats of a vehicle cannot prevent people seated in them from flying backwards and injure and even kill children seated behind them. And simple cargo like luggage or tools quickly become deadly projectiles. It’s a scandal that pops up every few years and occurs even on the latest, otherwise very safe, cars. Security attorneys describe the construction of car seats as being equivalent to “garden chairs”.
“FMVSS 207 is just a really old standard,” says George Hetzer III, a former seat engineer at TS Tech Americas, a major automotive supplier. “The industry has made significant advances in seat safety over the decades that have followed, but without market demand, this is not a major priority.” The standard was first written in 1967.
According to Hetzer, most manufacturers measure the somewhat stricter European standard ECE-R17 due to the lack of a modern seat strength standard from the American government. However, ECE-R17 only prescribes one test in which two 34-pound blocks are placed behind but in contact with the rear seats and a crash is simulated with an acceleration force of 20 to 28 g. All cars brake at different speeds due to variations in their energy-absorbing structures (crumple zones), but these forces are generated in accidents of only 20 to 30 miles per hour. Seats made to European standards are also incapable of stopping a 60-pound dog traveling at 35 mph.
A white paper on the subject, produced by the European Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardization, says the current legislation has “flaws” and calls for a more realistic test: four 50 pound suitcases are being sent at one speed accelerated, which corresponds to 30 mph crash. The results of tests performed on seats made to the current standard are instructive.
“The central hinges of the backrest were released and enabled the luggage to get into the passenger compartment, where it could threaten the occupants in the front seats as well as the occupants in the rear,” said the newspaper. It is written in very dry technical language, but the assessment of the report about the effects of this flight baggage on the test dummies is clear: the forces they experienced “leave the safe aircraft”.
Personally, I don’t use my vehicles to carry four 50 pound suitcases. I use them to carry three large dogs, the heaviest of which, Teddy, weighs 115 pounds. In a car accident at 35 mph, Teddy would transform into a projectile with a force equivalent to approximately 5,300 pounds. And, as I discovered in this pet restraint article, there is no effective way to restrain a dog this large in a vehicle so that it will not be injured or killed in an accident.
But I love my dogs so I had to find out. My search led to MIM, a Swedish line of products built and tested to hold a single 99 pound dog or two 77 pound dogs in crashes of about 30 mph. MIM makes comprehensive crash cages ($ 1,160-2,000) that protect and contain the dog from the front, sides, and back. That’s a lot of security, but installing one means that the cargo space of a car cannot only be used for transporting dogs. MIM also makes a universal home barrier ($ 285 to $ 380) that has been tested to the same standard but only covers the portion of the vehicle above the height of the rear seats. If a dog came across the unprotected part of the backrest, this barrier would not do anything.
I wanted to be able to occasionally transport normal cargo in my family’s Land Cruiser and maybe even store essentials there in an organized manner. I was familiar with the range of drawers and load barriers from Australian 4×4 accessories maker ARB from my time traversing the Simpson Desert in vintage off-roaders, but the drawers were too tall to leave enough room for my large dogs. And the appropriate load barriers only work in combination with the drawers. I complained to the company in frustration. My timing was right because one rep responded with good news: They were about to bring out a new, lighter-sized system aimed at dog owners.
ARB’s new mid-height drawer system ($ 1,500) continues to provide 4.1-inch storage space in the drawers – enough for a large rescue harness or a side-mounted automobile fire extinguisher. Side panels disengage the wheel arches to make up for the main cargo space and provide storage space for bulkier items such as luggage. B. heavy bottle lifters. Best of all, the total height of the drawer section is only 7.5 inches. Hardly any space is lost for dogs.
The drawers attach to the vehicle’s frame rails under the floor of the rear cargo area. The optional charge barrier ($ 730) attaches to the same spots on the underside, then replaces the rear grab handles with a clever energy-absorbing mount that allows for controlled movement of the barrier and slows a dog’s rate of deceleration on impact. The barrier complies with the Australian and New Zealand 4034.2 standards. This means that it has been tested to withstand the impact of a 120 pound object in a 30 mile crash and that it is still compatible with the rear curtain airbags on the vehicle for which it was designed. It completely wraps the rear cargo space from the top of the drawers to the ceiling, which also means it’s supported by the strength the seats can add. The barrier is designed for easy removal without tools and can be stored behind the front seats – handy when we need to fold the second row to move a large object.
ARB’s drawer systems and cargo barriers are available on multiple vehicle platforms. Consult the brand’s application guide to see if they make systems that will suit yours. Since the barrier shares the points where the drawer system is bolted to the frame, it is only available with these drawers.
Do you have to spend thousands of dollars on a barrier to protect your dogs? If you have a small or medium-sized dog, the answer is likely no. The Ruffwear Loadup Harness ($ 80) is still the best way to secure these animals in your car. However, when you have a large dog, safety must be a real priority. You paid well over $ 2,200 to make sure you were driving a safe, modern car. Failure to factor in your dog’s presence in this vehicle will undermine any seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones that you just converted into a monthly payment.
The European Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardization has some practical guides for anyone wearing something on the back of their vehicle. During the test, they found that locking all available seat belts over empty seats added significant (but undefined) load resistance. So you should always be buckled up when a seat is not occupied. It was also found that the force a seat could tolerate near its base was greater than that near its headrest, as the seats typically pivot about a point near their bottom. Carrying the least possible load against the backrest to prevent acceleration is an effective safety strategy. The association also recommends tying up any burdens. Many of the tips are impossible for large dogs, but good advice for smaller animals.
If nothing else, this is a good reminder to drive safely. We all probably drive faster than the rated limits of the safety equipment in our vehicles every day.
Main photo: Virginia McQueen