It is not uncommon to see a driver sitting with a dog on her lap behind the wheel. Many people enjoy bringing their pups with them on outings, and letting them roam about the car during the drive. While this may seem harmless enough, especially if the dog is small of stature and generally nonthreatening, there are several factors to consider before you and your pup buckle up.

Questions to Consider

Is it legal?  This depends entirely on an individual state’s traffic laws. For example, even the laid-back state of Hawaii recognizes the hazards of driving with a pet on your lap. Though you may not be inclined to think twice about this practice, keeping a dog on your lap could land you a substantial ticket (in the state of New Jersey, these soar up to $1000 in fines) if a highway patrol officer spots you.  When in doubt, contact a traffic law lawyer in your region to find out what the restrictions are, so you can avoid getting into trouble.

Is it safe? Anything that causes a driver to take his eyes or focus off the road, is definitely dangerous. By definition, “distracted driving” consists of any condition or activity that inhibits the driver’s ability to conduct the vehicle safely. Eating in the car, texting or talking on the phone, putting on makeup, and certainly cuddling a puppy on your lap, could also be considered activities that deter from safe driving. Unfortunately, the definitions can be vague and left up to the traffic officer’s discretion, based on how the driver appeared to be operating the vehicle; so it is better to be safe than sorry.

Potential Hazards to Consider

Distraction: Distractions could happen when the dog jumps up on the owner’s lap, or gets his head in the way blocking the driver’s view, or licks the driver, taking his focus off the road.  If texting on cell phones is interdicted, since it requires a driver to hold/look at a phone (taking his eyes off the road), the same distraction can occur with pets. The opportunity for distraction is limitless while a live creature is free reign to wander around the vehicle.

Dangers to the driver: Imagine if Yippy starts digging in his owner’s purse, or spilling her coffee out of the mug holder, right as the driver is accelerating onto the freeway. Things could fall out of the purse and get caught by the driver’s feet, inhibiting her use of the brake; and spilled drinks not only distract but could also burn the dog or the driver in the process.  If a window is open and the dog happens to lean too far out of it, or if the pup sees a squirrel while the car is at a red light, and decides to jump out the window, suddenly you have not only an escaped dog, but a highly distracted and distressed person behind the wheel whose driving could put herself and others in harm’s way.

Dangers to the dog:  Just as you would not allow a child to ride in a car without a seat belt for his own safety, a dog running around in a car is likewise greatly at risk. If one of the distractions above occurred, and the driver did get into an accident, an unrestrained dog could be hurled from the car, or be jammed into the seat in front of him.  Failing to secure the creature is dangerous as he could get horribly hurt or even killed if a crash were to occur.

Accidents happen even when all the external factors seem perfect; but adding a live animal to the equation not only puts the driver at risk, but also others on the road.  It would be a better choice to bring a crate, a calming collar  and some puppy toys to keep your dog content and contained for the journey, in order to ensure the safety of all involved.