Texting behind the wheel may be the new drunk driving, but it appears we have a furry front in the war on unsafe motoring, too: Keeping dogs off drivers' laps. Driving with an unrestrained pet in the front seat is apparently widespread enough, and dangerous enough, that at least two states — Rhode Island and Tennessee — are considering bans on the practice. Here, a look at the issue of driving while under a dog, and why people are trying to stop it:
How widespread is this problem?
A 2010 survey from AAA has some pretty jarring numbers: 21 percent of drivers who transported their dogs in the last year said they let the pooch ride on their lap, 7 percent said they'd fed or given water to the dog while driving, 5 percent admitted to playing with the dog while driving, and 31 percent said that the dog had distracted them, regardless of where it was in the car.
And it's dangerous?
Yes. An unrestrained 10-pound dog traveling at 50 miles per hour flies forward with 500 pounds of pressure in a crash, and an 80-pound dog at only 30 mph packs a 2,400-pound punch, says AAA spokeswoman Beth Mosher. "Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle in its path."
But it's legal to drive with a dog in your lap, right?
For now, yes. No state forbids dogs, cats, or other animals from running around freely inside your vehicle. But two states are trying to change that. In Tennessee, a Republican-sponsored bill passed in the House on April 2 and is currently stalled in the Senate. In Rhode Island, a Democrat-backed bill was introduced April 9, and is working its way through the House. "There shouldn't be anything in your lap, whether it be your little pooch or your Great Dane of your wife," Rhode Island bill instigator Suzanne Arena tells WPRO Morning News.
How would Rhode Island and Tennessee punish violators?
Rhode Island dog-driving scofflaws would only get a fine: $85 for the first offense, $100 for a second ticket, and $125 for every violation after that. In Tennessee, driving with a dog in your lap or "between the driver and driver's door" would be a Class C misdemeanor, bringing a $50 fine and up to 30 days in jail. But given the risk of injury or death to the dog and driver, "it is clear logic to me that anyone would want to secure an animal in the car," Arena tells WPRO Morning News.
Have other states tried this before?
California's legislature outlawed dogs in drivers' laps in 2008, but then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. And South Dakota's Supreme Court sided with police who stopped a woman in 2010 with 15 cats running loose in her car, impounding the cats because they posed a risk to public safety. The woman, Patricia Edwards, didn't even see the patrol car behind her because cats were huddled in her rear window.