I am fully fully fully against animals being allowed loose in a vehicle. It's one of my hot button issues actually and I feel it should be illegal to have your dog in front seat, especially your lap - no matter the size. As others have pointed out, there's the concern of you, your occupants, and your pet's safety should there be an accident; but there's also the concern of distracted driving (reacting to something your pet does or taking your eyes off the road to look at your cute fur baby, etc). Additionally, letting your dog stick his head out the window can hurt them if debris gets into their eyes or face. I've seen the crack and chip a rock can do on my windshield, would I want my dog to experience that?
The American Kennel Club also recommends keeping dogs in cars restrained in a crate or harness attached to a seat belt.
I was in a car accident in high school because a man had his dog running loose in the car and it got in his way. Not only so my step-father's truck totaled, I still have knee problems where I collided with the dash of the truck console - and that was a good ten years ago. The man in question, ended up having his license seized and I believe he may have also lost the dog too (as in taken from him, pretty sure it didn't die). As it was the dog was hurt during the accident, and hurt the driver as a projectile.
The American Automobile Association recently released a survey that said 56 percent of pet owners drove with their pets at least once a month but only 16 percent used any type of restraint, such as a harness or a crate. Drive-time activities with the pets included:
Petting: 52 percent
Restraining pet while braking: 23 percent
Keeping the pet out of the front seat: 19 percent
Reaching into the backseat for pet: 18 percent
Allowing the dog in the driver’s lap: 17 percent
Feeding the dog: 17 percent
Facts About Pet Restraint and Auto Safety
In a vehicle collision, an unrestrained 60-pound pet becomes a 2,700 pound projectile, at just 35mph.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3331 people lost their lives and over 387,000 were injured in accidents involving distracted driving in 2011.
Pet travel has increased 300% since 2005. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) reports that approximately 78 million dogs reside in more than 46 million U.S. households; and a Kurgo/AAA study (2010-2011) revealed that nearly 60% of respondents had driven with their dogs at least once a month while only 16% used any form of pet restraint and almost 30% of the respondents admitted to being distracted by their dog while traveling in the vehicle.
Unrestrained pets delay emergency workers' post-accident access to human occupants, since frightened and/or injured pets may attack or bite first responders and rescue workers.
Pets may escape the vehicle and may even run into the roadway, posing a danger to themselves as well as those who must chase them.
"A slam on the brakes at 30 mph means a 50 pound dog could lunge forward with a force equivalent to being pushed by almost nine 170 pound men, safety researchers have calculated. The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates pets moving about in cars as the third worst distraction while driving. A recent survey by the Royal Auto Club found that nearly all drivers who traveled with their pets had been distracted by them at least once, and about 11 percent of those drivers admitted the distraction almost caused a crash."
If you didn't know several states have passed laws against a free-roaming dog in the car and several states forbid dogs in an open bed truck/vehicle. "In Massachusetts, it is against the law for an operator of a motor vehicle to allow anything in or on the vehicle that "may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle…"" Also, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, California, Maine, Oregon, Washington, Florida and Rhode Island restrict dogs from trucks or open vehicles.
Always check with your state about the laws regarding pet restraints, and check often because laws do get updated and changed. God forbid, you are in an accident, your hurt, a loved one is hurt, and/or your dog is hurt - and then the police cite you for negligent/distracted driving.
Here are some links about discouraging loose dogs and potential state laws: