Last week, New Jersey took a big step forward to protect drivers and pets on the road by enacting a law so that police officers can ticket any driver improperly transporting an animal, with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for each offense. (Fines can multiply for more than one animal in the vehicle.)
Additionally, drivers can be charged with a disorderly person’s offense under the state’s animal cruelty statutes.
Superintendent of the NJ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) Col. Frank Rizzo delivered the important safety message at a press conference held at a local park dog run last week. The timing of the announcement, right at the unofficial start of summer, was because more people take to the roads during the warmer months and often times take their family pet with them.
According to Col. Rizzo, the NJSPCA would like to see all animals restrained from moving around freely in a car, or at least harnessed or leashed using one of the many safety products currently available. “Some people tell us they like to let their pets hang their heads out the window to take in the fresh air,” Col. Rizzo said, “but dogs and cats become projectiles in a crash. You wouldn’t put your child in the car unrestrained so you shouldn’t put your pet in the car unrestrained either.”
NJ Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez noted that more than 5,400 Americans die each year in car accidents caused by distracted driving. He cited a 2010 survey by AAA that found that driving with a dog on your lap is far more common and distracting than first thought. According to the survey:
- 20% of those asked admitted to letting their dog sit on their lap while they drove.
- 31% said they were truly distracted by their dog while driving no matter where the dog was in the car.
Reactions ranged from not particularly enthusiastic to downright incredulous. Comments from New Jersey dog owners that attended the press conference, including police officers tasked with enforcing the law and issuing summonses, as reported in an article from the Verona (NJ) Cedar Grove Patch, included:
- “Seriously? The best part of my day is hitting the road with my dog sitting right beside me in my truck," was the initial reaction from one veteran police officer.
- Another thought that this was a particularly intrusive law, especially given the severe penalties.
- The owner of Daisy, a Great Dane, said he thought this was just a back door way for the state to make money. “Really,” he said “$250 to $1000? Why not just say you have to add dogs onto your car insurance policy? Oh wait… The state wouldn’t get that money.”
- The owner of Millie, a Jack Russell Terrier said, “Great, so now when I restrain her she’ll bark non-stop in the car and I’ll get into an accident.”
Other states have similar legislation pending that will make restraining pets in motor vehicles mandatory. Will Indiana follow suit? Should it? We’d like your opinion, whether you support or oppose the idea. Leave your comments below and let our state legislators know where you stand on the issue.
northwestohio.com: Seat-belt your dog or face $1000 fine
Verona (NJ) Cedar Grove Patch: Unbuckled Dogs Draw Stiffer Penalty Than People
digtriad.com: NJ Officials Urge Motorists To Buckle Up Furry Ones