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Driving with Fido: Legal in most states, controversial in all

Jenni Bergal, Stateline.org on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

Some state legislators see distracted dogging measures as overreach or question whether they really are necessary.

Connecticut Republican state Rep. Fred Camillo, a dog lover who frequently drives around with his unrestrained German shepherd in his SUV, said he was skeptical about a 2015 bill that would have barred drivers from having pets in their laps and made it a distracted driving offense.

"I'm all for tougher distracted driving laws, but they didn't come up with any statistics showing this was a problem," Camillo said. "Are we going to pass laws without any hard evidence? If the stats are out there, I'm willing to be open-minded. But I haven't seen anything."

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration doesn't keep data on how many crashes or fatalities are linked to unsecured pets, and traffic safety experts say it's unlikely states do either. Nor is there much information available about how often police ticket drivers for being distracted by their pets.

Even in Hawaii, which has had its law for decades and imposes a $97 fine for driving with a "person, animal, or object" in your lap, officials don't track how many of those citations by police specifically involved animals. Honolulu police issued 38 such citations in 2016; in 2017 they issued 13, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

 

Brooks Baehr, spokesman for the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, said that in the past four years, two people have been prosecuted for driving with a pooch in their lap or close by. One was a man with a little dog in the passenger seat of his Mercedes. The other was a woman in a Cadillac Escalade whom police spotted with a small, long-haired dog in her lap. One of her hands was on the wheel. In the other she had a cellphone, and she was looking down at it.

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