For 49 out of 50 states, the answer is no. But if you live in New Jersey, the surprising answer is yes.
In an attempt to decrease auto accidents caused by distracted driving, New Jersey officials from the Motor Vehicle Commission have teamed up with the SPCA to create a new ticket initiative in New Jersey regarding animals and safety belts. Under this new law, drivers can be cited for failing to properly secure their pets in a moving vehicle.
A few other states have passed similar laws that bar animals from riding in the back of pickup trucks, and three states bar drivers from letting pets ride on their laps, but no state has gone as far as New Jersey. Violators of this new law will face fines ranging from $250 to $1000 for each unrestrained animal and they could face up to six months in jail if their actions are repeated or dangerous to other drivers around them.
Advocates of this new law believe it will keep both motorists and pets safer. In a 2010 survey by AAA, 20 percent of participants admitted letting their dogs sit on their laps while driving and 31 percent said they were distracted by their dogs while driving. Distracted driving has quickly become one of the leading causes of auto accidents and lawmakers are trying to reduce the risk by preventing the many common causes. Some believe unrestrained animals are just as dangerous as texting while driving in terms of distracted driving.
Pets are not only dangerous in the car because of their potential to distract the driver, but they can also cause more injuries. An unrestrained animal in the car can become a projectile when an accident occurs, causing even more injuries to the passengers and the animals. Unrestrained animals can also jump out of windows and cause sudden stops and additional accidents down the road.
Authorities suggest that dogs be restrained with harnesses that attach to a seat belt buckle while cats should be placed in a buckled down pet carrier. Many animal advocates have advised pet owners to restrain their pets while traveling for years, and there’s a healthy market for adapters and even special booster seats to buckle dogs into seat belts.
Many people are opposed to this new law and find it ridiculous and unnecessary. However, it seems that the growing concern for distracted driving is leading more and more lawmakers to enact these types of laws. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash.