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
13 thoughts on “Will Indiana Make Unrestrained Dogs in Cars Illegal (and Expensive) Like in New Jersey?”
I have a small dog. He’s really well behaved and trained but still is a huge distraction in the car. He hangs out of the window, whines because he wants to sit in my lap and I catch myself looking at him while I drive to see if he’s ok or to pet him. I think it’s just as bad a texting and driving. A lot of accidents happen because drivers are distracted by their pets. I feel it’s totally reasonable for owners to take the initiative to safely transport their dogs in their car so laws wont have to be enforced and require fines if we dont do it one time out of 100. But this is where it’s going because we are not taking action ourselves. To me, safely securing our kids, pets and ourselves in the car is the responsible thing to do. I was guilty of not restraining my dog and I’ll gladly admit it. But now I have a car seat that he likes and secures him safely. Your dog will get use to it. Mine did and now he loves the change. He goes right into the car bag without me even needing to put him in. Plus he’s not getting tossed around in the car when I put my breaks on. I understand everyone has their opinion, but when it comes down to it, I don’t want anything happening to my dog if I were to get into an accident. I wouldn’t forgive myself.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We agree that distracted driving and being tossed around in a vehicle are both bad ideas.
There are options other than seatbelt-style restraints, particularly if you can dedicate an entire open-trunk (as in an SUV/crossover) or back seat to your pet. In those cases, there are barriers/hammocks you can purchase that limit your pet from moving to the front two seats of the vehicle. This allows your pet to look out the windows, adjust for comfort (often a necessity in older pets), and not feel as panicked or frightened. Perhaps these types of products would be a good compromise?
Thanks for your great comment. No perfect solution exists, but the more we focus attention on the subject the closer we get to solutions that serve the needs of the most people and pets.
I think pets should also be restrained in vehicles just like children. They can cause a great distraction when jumping around while the vehicle is moving and possibly be the cause of an accident. If there is an accident they are likely to be killed or injured as well as cause injury to the driver or passenger(s).
We appreciate your comment, which seems to make some sense.
What about the dogs happiness. Dogs love riding in cars and looking out the window. This is just to much Government in our lives. I ask my dog, he is totally against it. He love the fresh air and his freedom.
I guess that police working dogs will also have to be put into restraints just like their human counterparts wearing seat belts. I thought that most police working dogs are kept at the ready to help defend their human partners. If they are not compelled to be restrained in the backseat of the police cruiser can they be fined also, or is this just another hypocritical levee on the citizens.
Tony, Thanks for your comment. To put into into a pet-related saying, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. We suspect, but have no hard data to back it up, that since seat belt laws have been implemented nationally, several to many police officers have escaped injury or worse because they were buckled up in a crash. Yes, putting on seat belts may be inconvenient and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable, especially for police officers who are in and out of the vehicle all day and who need to act quickly, but we know through hard data that so many lives have been saved because it is the law that it would inconceivable that we would ever again not have mandatory seat-belt laws. As role models and leaders of our community, public safety officials understand the importance of leading by example, so I suspect we will see new restraint devices available soon that better-protect the life of police dogs and that accommodate the needs of police departments and the public they protect – sometimes from themselves. Thousands of dogs wear a restraint system when riding in cars everyday all across the nation and we applaud the pet owners who use them. We also applaud the New Jersey legislature for looking after the lives of our precious pets, who cannot speak for themselves about the need to be protected from injury while riding in a moving vehicle. Yo, Jersey — way to go!
We live in a country where Sex Offenders can write How To Books on molesting children because it is their right but in NJ we can’t put our god damn dog in the car. Ridiculous!!!! ANd why is the fine so high????If my child wasn’t in a car seat or wearing a seatbelt I believe the fine would be under $50 but God forbid I would do something so irresposnsible as putting the dog in the car for a ride and I gotta get hit with $250 to $1000 fine. What is more American than taking the dog for a ride in the car???? Its obvios that our legislators are focusing their energy on friviolus laws. How about putting some energy into something more beneifical than this
Melissa, Thanks for visiting and commenting on our site. Some of your comments may be valid, but every story has two side – and the truth is somewhere in between. Why would you want to subject your pet to injury in an accident any more than you would want your children or anyone hurt in a car crash? If seat belts and car seats are good for people, then logic says they should be good for the pets we love as much as any family member. Also, it does seem a bit irresponsible if you are distracted by your pet and you bump into the rear end of another car at a red light, which actually happened to us recently. Do you believe it is a good idea to drive with your baby on your lap, like the driver who admitted, after she hit my car, that she had her dog on her lap and she was distracted by it? We hope not. We’ve seen very large dogs hanging out of the driver’s window while traveling at high speeds and we find it hard to believe that is not a minor or major distraction to the driver – and a potential hazard to the dog if the vehicles needs to suddenly stop or swerve. Yes, the laws of our nation and communities are sometimes hard to justify from an extreme perspective, but those laws are legislated by the people we elect to public office to serve our best interests, so perhaps your written reaction needs to be backed up by some local political activity. But please remember when you are in the voting booth, many dogs that are injured or worse in car accidents may not have suffered had they been properly restrained, just like the many people who walk away from bad accidents unharmed because of the safety devices installed in vehicles – because it is the law. Not all laws are bad just because they might make us adjust our lifestyle a little. Sometimes, our choices can be better – for ourselves and for everyone else on the road.
@BeverlysPreciousPets: I refute your assertions that every story has two sides and that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Neither of those things are always true. The fact of the matter is that try as they might, stupidity cannot be legislated away. If you’re dog is a distraction in the car (note that only 31% admitted to this) then you should act to prevent that. Further, you have, as did Col. Rizzo, made several other conclusions without any evidence or that require an equivalence that doesn’t exist, such as the idea that what is good for a person is also good for your pet. I’m assuming that you have thumbs, for instance, meaning you can remove a restraint yourself if you deem it necessary to exit a vehicle after a crash. If you’re dog lays on the floor in the back of your car like mine does then, until I see evidence to the contrary, I contend it’s safer to let it do so. Otherwise it’s just going to get stuck in the car during an accident, which certainly isn’t safer for the animal. I’d rather the dog be given the option to run away, if that option is available, after a crash than to have to take the time myself, which I may not have, to remove her restraints.
John, you make some valid points, especially that legislation does not solve all problems caused by people who make bad choices. And this issue seems to be all about choices. Yes, an unrestrained dog can exit a vehicle after an accident, if and only if the dog was not too injured during the crash to walk after it. The laws of physics work against any unsecured object in a crash, especially at high speed, which is the scientific reasoning behind seat belt legislation, so the possibility exists (no statement of facts – only a possibility to be considered) that some unrestrained dogs will suffer more than if they had been restrained. Of course, the opposite is true in some cases, just like with humans, but I believe the data and science supports the use of seat belts as the safer choice. So, we both have our truthful beliefs about the right choice to make. Because pets cannot express their own opinion about the choice they would make for themselves, we tend to lean on scientific research and data to help us make choices on our pet’s behalf. You can choose to do that or not, and we support that right, even if we believe it may be harmful to your precious pet. If we lived in New Jersey, our choice would definitely be to obey the law and hope that science and the laws of physics favor my restrained pet when we are driving. We would also vote to elect legislators that think the way we do, as we are sure you would too. And having that choice is what helps make Indiana, New Jersey, and all the USA a great place to live and have pets. We don’t bring politics into our business; we treat all pets the same no matter for whom they vote!
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