NC lawmaker files bill to outlaw animals in drivers’ laps

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new bill could make it illegal to drive with a pet in your lap.

If passed by the North Carolina legislature, violators could face a $100 dollar fine for having a lap dog or other animal in between them and the steering wheel. There would not be any penalty on a driver’s license record or insurance.

Representative Garland Pierce proposed House Bill 73 after sending a survey to his constituents in Hoke, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland Counties asking for ideas for new laws which could benefit people across North Carolina. Pierce, the Democratic Whip, said he heard from people about drivers being distracted by having pets in their laps.

Pierce said he talked with some state troopers who confirmed investigations of wrecks where animals played a role in distracting the driver.

“Any distraction behind that steering wheel is a problem,” Pierce said.

“‘This is a highway safety bill, nothing more, nothing less. I’m not trying to beat down on anyone with animals. I have no desire to do that.”

House Bill 73 states:

It is the intent of the General Assembly to ensure the safety of all who are traveling on the public streets, highways, and other public vehicular areas of this State. The General Assembly finds that the operation of a motor vehicle by a person holding a live animal in the person’s lap must be prohibited as it is a distraction that endangers the safety of the driver, any passengers in the vehicle, others traveling in the same vicinity, and the animal the operation of a motor vehicle by a person holding a live animal in the person’s lap must be prohibited as it is a distraction that endangers the safety of the driver, any passengers in the vehicle, others traveling in the same vicinity, and the animal.

Several drivers said they agree completely with the proposed legislation. Dog owner April Cash said she often sees drivers with pets climbing on them.

“It’s not safe for the dog, it’s not safe for you, and it’s not safe for other people driving around,” Cash said.

“Whenever I see it, I feel a little danger. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to be by that person on the road.”

She keeps her rescue dog Annie in the back seat. Cash said the $100 fine seems a bit high, but it might be a strong consequence to motivate people to follow the law.

Nick Bertocci said the fine amount is mild compared to what could happen, and he thinks it is good that the proposal does not put points on a driver’s license record. He has a very large dog named Bear who rides in the very back of a three row SUV when going to and from the park.

“If (a dog) jumps or does anything, your main focus is reacting to that, and you can just veer off the road,” Bertocci said.

“You can’t text while driving. You shouldn’t have a living animal on your lap. You can’t really anticipate what the animal is going to do. When you’re behind the wheel, you have so many other people’s lives at risk.”

Representative Pierce said he thinks the fine will get people’s attention but not incriminate drivers. He said he does not want to criminalize driving with a lap dog, but he wants people to think of it as a highway infraction and consider the danger it poses.

Daniel Askew said he used to drive with his small dogs in his lap. He said the dogs liked to cuddle but could become a distractoion when they put their heads on his arm while he was steering.

He stopped allowing the pups up front when one became hurt during a ride.

“We had an instance where she did fall out of the car when we were parked. She got excited and we opened the car door and she decided she was going to jump out, and she fell on her back.” Askew said.

“She did some damage to her back. Ever since then, we don’t play around with that. We got a doggie car seat, and it sounds ridiculous, but they love it and it keeps them comfortable.”

Pet stores such as Phydeaux carry a variety of harnesses, hammocks, and holders for animals.

“They have been made specifically this way for the purpose of being put in the back seat for the safety of your pet,” Emily White said.

“They all have some sort of way to have the seat belt attach to it or attach to a child safety lock which is already in place for the safety of your child. This is just your furry child.”

White said the staff at Phydeaux makes sure customers are aware of the differences in standard harnesses and the devices designed for cars which have been crash tested.

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