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US Laws Regarding Dogs in Cars

Dogs Riding in Laps May be Distracted Driving

By Dawn Ross, October 2015
There are a few laws specific to dogs or other pets in cars. While some laws appear to be concerned about the safety of pets in the vehicle, most are aimed at the safety of people. If you travel with your dog or other pets, you should be aware of all these laws.

UNATTENDED PET
Legislation regarding leaving dogs unattended in the car is probably the most common. It is especially common in states that tend to have warmer climates. If a law does not exist for the entire state, it might exist for individual towns and cities. Even if it is not against the law in your city or state, consider the threat of pet theft before you leave your dog alone in the car. Also take into account that animal cruelty laws could apply. Animal cruelty is a felony in all states.

DOG IN TRUCK BED
Like laws regarding pets left unattended in the car, laws regarding dogs riding without restraint in the bed of the truck apply to only a few states. But such laws apply to many cities and towns where state laws do not address the issue. While such laws may seem to be in the interest of protecting animals, the laws are generally concerned about human safety. If a dog gets tossed from a pickup truck on the highway, accidents are likely to occur from other drivers on the road who attempt to miss the animal. According to CoolStuffforDogs.com, states that do not allow pets to ride in the back of a truck unless restrained include California, Oregon, Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. Scroll to 23117 to read California’s law regarding dogs riding in trucks. And Morris Vet Center has shared Minnesota’s law regarding dogs in pickups. If there is no law, a person could still get charged with reckless driving and possibly animal cruelty if their dog getting thrown from the pickup causes an accident.

DOG IN LAP
Hawaii is the only state in the US that explicitly addresses the issue of dogs riding in the driver’s lap. Read Hawaii’s law about dogs in laps here. Other states are considering making this law. Connecticut is considering making it illegal for drivers to hold their dogs in their laps. But even if your state doesn’t state this is illegal, distracted driving is illegal in all states. If a policy officer sees someone driving with their dog in their lap, it is at the officer’s discretion to decide whether that is distracted driving or not.

RESTRAINING DOG
As of the date of this article, I found that only New Jersey has formally made a law about pets riding unrestrained in the vehicle. But other states are considering it. And just because there is no law in other states about pets being restrained in the car, it doesn’t mean that someone could be fined for distracted driving if it appears a loose dog is causing issues.

CONCLUSION
Even though many states do not address dogs in vehicles, animal cruelty laws, reckless driving, and distracted driving laws apply in all states. So use common sense and don’t leave your dog alone in the vehicle and make sure your dog is not a distraction when you drive.

Note from author: You can verify the information provided in this article by clicking the links to the sources.


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