sleeping dog in car on driver's lap

Do You Know Your State Laws Regarding Driving with Pets?

If you’re like many pet owners, you probably enjoy bringing your dog or cat along with you on road trips and daily errands. Unfortunately, pets traveling in vehicles can be a huge driving distraction when they aren’t properly secured. Tragically, tens of thousands of traffic accidents, with some including fatalities, occur each year as the result of unrestrained pets. That’s why states have enacted various laws for transporting animals. Here’s what you need to know about the different state driving laws, regarding traveling with pets.

How Driving with Pets in Vehicles Can Be Dangerous

It can be extremely dangerous to interact with pets while driving. These include behaviors, such as petting an animal when driving or allowing pets to sit in your lap. Even having a pet share your driver’s seat is risky. Another dangerous behavior is feeding a pet or offering it treats while you’re driving. Additionally, playing with a pet while you drive is especially unsafe.

Even if you don’t interact with your pet, an animal that’s unrestrained can still be hazardous. Consider how pets that aren’t restrained or secured can easily climb over to a driver’s seat or get between or underneath seats. They can also block a driver’s view of the road or knock his or her hands off a steering wheel. Another hazard is an animal getting under a driver’s feet, so it’s impossible to apply brakes.

Examples of States with More Restrictive Animal Transport Laws

Some states have stricter pet transport laws than others. For example:

  • In Hawaii, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle with a pet on your lap. Besides holding a pet in the lap, this also includes allowing it to be in a driver’s immediate area.
  • Arizona is another state where it’s illegal to drive with a pet on your lap. If you violate this law, you can be charged with distracted driving.
  • The states of Maine, Connecticut and Arizona can use distracted-driving laws to charge people who drive with pets on their laps.
  • The only state in which driving with loose pets in a vehicle is an animal cruelty law violation is New Jersey. In the Garden State, law enforcement officers can stop drivers who fail to transport animals properly, such as having dogs on their laps. Drivers who violate animal transport laws can pay anywhere from $250 to $1,000. In the worst cases, they can even go to jail for six months.

  • States Requiring Pets to Be Secured When Traveling in the Open Part of a Vehicle

    There are at least eight states with laws that require pets and other animals to be secured while being transferred in a vehicle’s open area. But most of these laws do not require animals to be secured or restrained when they’re in an enclosed portion of a vehicle. The states requiring dogs to be restrained or secured in a pickup truck bed or another area of the external part of a vehicle include New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Oregon.

    In California and Massachusetts, animals are required to be contained or restrained when they’re being transported in a vehicle’s load-bearing section if the space isn’t enclosed. Furthermore, in Washington and Nevada, if animals are transported in a vehicle in such a way that puts their safety at risk, it’s considered a misdemeanor.

    Other Considerations and Warnings

  • If you transport a dog in your vehicle, it’s critical to know the specific dog restraint laws that are enforced in your state. It's also very important to be aware of the laws of other states in which you drive.
  • When crossing state lines with animals, you’re required to carry a certificate of veterinary inspection. If you don’t have your pet’s updated health certificate, you’re actually breaking the law.
  • Drivers who are distracted by animals, resulting in crashes, can be held responsible for injuries, besides property damage.

  • Sometimes, even the safest drivers get traffic tickets. At Puppy Traffic School, we provide a California online traffic school for dismissing traffic tickets. Part of the fee for the course goes to a foundation helping dogs and cats. Please contact us and learn more about our course that includes a theme featuring dogs and cats.

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