From the Rhode Island General Assembly Press Bureau:
No matter how much people love and pamper their pets, Rep. Peter G. Palumbo still thinks it’s dangerous to drive a car with a dog on your lap.
“I know some people think this is frivolous, but I still believe it is a matter of public safety, for humans and animals alike,” said Representative Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston).
Representative Palumbo has again introduced legislation, 2013-H 5101, that will prohibit dogs from sitting on the lap of a motor vehicle operator. Violators would be subject to an $85 fine for a first offense, $100 for a second and $125 for a third or subsequent offense.
“It doesn’t take a lot for a driver to be distracted, and even minor distractions can lead to accidents and injuries,” said Representative Palumbo. “If you are driving and texting, you are not watching the road. If you are driving and petting your dog, you are not watching the road. Safety on our roads must come first, for everyone’s sake, and a driver pre-occupied by a pet on his lap is not a safe driver, in my opinion.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released the results of a study that indicated nearly 80 percent of crashes are caused by driver inattention or distraction within three seconds of a crash. An article on the Animal Planet website said that “A loose pet in a car may as well be a neon sign warning ‘accident ahead.’ Free roaming pets may distract the driver, whose main attention should be on the road. Pets might jump into a driver’s lap (and) obstruct the driver’s view.”
A 2010 survey from AAA found that 21 percent of drivers who transported their dogs in the previous year let the pooch ride on their lap. The auto club called it dangerous because 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. Said a AAA spokesperson, “Imagine the devastation that can cause to your pet and anyone in the vehicle in its path.”
So far, not many states have enacted laws dealing with this issue. In New Jersey, under state law, NJSPCA officers can stop a driver they believe is improperly transporting an animal. Tickets range from $250 to $1,000 per offense, and a driver can face a disorderly person's offense under animal-cruelty laws. Hawaii explicitly forbids drivers from holding a pet on their lap. In Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, distracted-driving laws can be used to charge drivers with pets on their laps.
“I love dogs just as much as anyone, but we need to use some common sense when it comes to driving with them,” said Representative Palumbo. “If we have to educate people through the possibility of a fine, so be it. My interest is in keeping drivers, other people on the road, and pets safe.”
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.