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Pets as distracting to drivers as mobiles

Under a new law, police and officers with the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could fine a driver 250–1,000 dollars for giving a four-legged family member free rein of the car while it’s moving.

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“You should not be driving down the road under any circumstances with a dog driving the car,” ABC News quoted Elyse Coffey, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, as telling Fox News.

“We don’t want dogs driving with the steering wheel, and we don’t want cats who sit on the dashboard,” Coffey.

Some in the Garden State scoffed at the news, but New Jersey is not the only state to consider or take up legislation to curb what transportation experts consider another contributor to distracted driving.

Arizona, Connecticut and Maine residents can be penalized under distracted-driving laws if they’re driving with a pet in their lap.

In Hawaii, drivers are not allowed to drive with pets in their laps, Rhode Island and Oregon are considering doing the same.

According to a 2011 pet passenger safety survey by AAA and Kurgo pet products, 65 percent of dog owners admitted to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog.

In that group, 52 percent said that activity included petting their pet, even when the animal was in the backseat. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looking away from the road for just two seconds can double a driver’s risk of being in a crash.

“The devastation to your pet and any other passengers can be incredible” in the event of an accident, Heather Hunter, a AAA spokeswoman, said.

In Cranberry, Pa., David Reed ran a red light in April and crashed into another vehicle after his dog crawled into his lap. His 2-year-old basset hound hit the windshield and landed on the dashboard but didn’t sustain any injuries.

He and his daughter were not hurt but the other driver had to be treated for injuries.

“You see people doing it driving with a dog all the time,” he said.

“You just don’t think it’s going to happen. … I never gave it a thought — my pet being a distraction to me when I was driving or anything,” he said.

AAA’s Hunter said restraining a pet while travelling in a vehicle minimized distractions to the driver, protected other passengers and also allowed emergency personnel to get to the vehicle and treat passengers if an accident occurred.

Restraints also stop a pet from running off when a door is opened.

“You’ve wouldn’t drive with your child in your lap, we want to keep them safe, just as you would your child,” Dr. Kat Miller of the ASPCA said.

“The length of the tether allows him to sit up comfortably and sit up normally but not roam around the back seat,” Miller added.

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