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The Real Danger of Driving with a Dog in Your Lap


If you were to pass me in my car, you would notice my dogs traveling with me. Unless I'm going to a store that isn't dog-friendly or it's too hot out, my dogs come in the car with me.

But you'll never find my dogs sitting in my lap or the front seat of the car. They always sit in the back seat where, like with children, it is the safest. And they are always attached to a seat belt

Related: Subaru of America has done crash safety tests for dogs in cars.

And they don't sit in my lap for another practical purpose: At 30 and 40 pounds, the dogs are too big to sit in my lap. But I also know it's not safe to drive with a dog in your lap, even though you see plenty of people doing it.

When I see my neighbors here in New Jersey driving with a dog in their lap, guess what? They could be breaking the law.

In New Jersey, there are animal anti-cruelty laws, and it is illegal to transport an unrestrained animal. If you drive with a dog on your lap, you could be pulled over and fined up to $1,000. With distracted driving laws in place to limit cellphone use, it is conceivable that you could be fined for having a dog in your lap while driving as well.

According to this Orvis blog post, distracted driving and other animal-related laws could get you a ticket for a dog in your lap when driving in the following states:

(scroll to keep reading)

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  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island

Hawaii is the one state that explicitly forbids you from driving with a dog in your lap. One Hawaii TV station reports that due to a little-known law, "You can be fined $97 dollars for driving with a dog in your lap and $57 if the animal's loose in a moving vehicle."

There is a reason that driving with a dog in your lap could fall under the heading of distracted driving—it is unsafe to do. For you and for your pet.

A pet that distracts you could lead to you crashing your car, and hurting yourself, your pet or someone else. This Auto Blog articles outlines crashes that loose pets in a car likely caused.

Another reason to keep your dog tethered in the back seat? An airbag going off in an accident could kill the dog if it is sitting in the front seat—even the passenger seat. As this Dogster article explains, this is the same logic as to why children younger than age 12 should ride in the backseat only—airbag dangers.

And one more reason for seat-belting your dog in the back?

Results from a survey from AAA and Kurgo (manufacturer of pet travel products) included this scary stat: an unrestrained 10-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert roughly 300 pounds of pressure, while an unrestrained 80-pound dog in a crash at only 30 mph will exert approximately 2,400 pounds of pressure. Imagine how hurt your dog could end up in the unlikely event of hurtling around inside your car during a crash.

So the next time you take your dogs in the car with you, will you buckle them up in the backseat? I truly hope that you do.

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