Loose Pets In-vehicle Equivalent to Driving Drunk? Proposed NJ Legislation Aims at Fido's Deadly Distractions

September 24, 2012

We rarely if ever go off-topic, but the latest move in the fight against distracted driving accidents will likely garner the attention of many people around the Garden State. The issue is how and where one's pet is situated in the family sedan, SUV or minivan. How does this even apply to driving while intoxicated? Well, just the proposed fines for having a free-roaming pet in your car may be reminiscent of the various fines, fees and other monetary penalties for those convicted of driving under the influence.

As New Jersey drunken driving defense lawyers, I and my colleagues have decades of experience in helping motorists who have been accused of DWI or drug DUI. In addition to campaigns against drunk driving, what we have seen over the past few years is more and more focus on distracted driving. As has been previously stated, distractions to the driver, according to police agencies and safety experts, can be almost as bad, if not worse, than operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or prescription medications.

Hands-on cellphone use, especially texting, while driving a car or truck has been a primary focus of recent legislation across the nation, but experts apparently agree that most any type of distraction within the passenger compartment of a moving vehicle is a potential source of trouble in terms of causing serious traffic accidents, serious bodily injury and even death. Never mind the usual disruptions of the radio, screaming children, chatty relatives or just plain old preoccupation with problems at work, school or interpersonal relationships, now pets are the target of the safety lobby.

According to recent news reports, dogs, cats -- even ferrets can't be ruled out -- are being added to the list of driver distractions that may be regulated in the near future. Based on news articles, fines for unrestrained pets could range from $250 to upwards of a thousand dollars. And from the standpoint of a motorist who may have been injured by a driver distracted by his or her Chihuahua or Corgi running amok in the car, why not blame the owner for allowing the dog to be a source of distraction.

Based on a recent news article, a proposed New Jersey law would require drivers who carry their pet in-vehicle to have the animal strapped in via a harness-type device lest they be charged hundreds of dollars in fines by police. One can only assume that this will give police officers one additional distraction of their own to deal with while on patrol over the parkway. And don't laugh, because the state of Hawaii already prohibits dogs from riding on a driver's lap. And if you have an accident in Arizona or Connecticut, an officer can issue a citation if he believes that a loose pet was the cause of a distracted-driving accident.

This is all apparently an outgrowth of numerous accidents involving pet-related distractions. According to a survey conducted by AAA in 2011, almost 20 percent of drivers who travel with their pets in the car stated that they have at one time or another taken their hands off the steering wheel when trying to keep the animal off the front seat. In addition, almost 25 percent said that they had to restrain their canine using one of their hands while applying the brakes, this according to the Bloomberg news agency.


New Jersey Contemplates First-Ever Pet Seatbelt Law, MSN.com, September 21, 2012

Doggie Seat Belts Loom in N.J. as Budget Challenges Grow, Bloomberg.com, September 21, 2012