Distracted Driving in South Dakota: Fifteen Cats in Car Nearly Cause Accident
Distracted driving is a recurring theme when talking about car accidents. It is also a topic that can become extremely strange due to the wide variety of distractions available to drivers, as we’ve discussed several times on this blog. In South Dakota, the State Supreme Court has just handed down a ruling on one of the more unusual examples of distracted driving: fifteen cats.
SF Gate summarizes the case:
The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer acted correctly when he seized 15 cats from a woman who was driving with the animals running free inside her car. In a 3-2 decision Thursday, the justices ruled that the felines were a distraction and interfered with driver Patricia Edwards’ ability to see where she was going.
According to the article, Edwards was living in the vehicle along with the fifteen cats and all her personal belongings. She was stopped when she experienced a near accident with a patrol car while backing out of a convenience store parking lot in Pierre, SD.
TheNewspaper.com also reports on the case [and includes a link to the full decision in pdf format]. According to the report, Chief Justice David E. Gilbertson had this to say:
‘Here, the circuit court found exigent circumstances justifying the impoundment of Edwards’s cats in the health and safety hazards created by Edwards’ traveling on a public roadway and through a crowded parking lot with fifteen small animals wandering around loose in her jam-packed vehicle to distract her and interfere with her ability to see where she was going,’ Gilbertson wrote. ‘Beyond the unsanitary aspects of the situation, it presented a significant safety risk to the public.’
The majority insisted that driving with a large number of cats in one’s automobile presents an imminent public threat.
‘Because of the cats in the back window, Edwards failed to see the patrol car behind her and nearly backed into it,’ Gilbertson wrote. ‘What if, instead of the officer’s patrol car, a less visible child on a skateboard or bicycle had passed by at that same moment? If the safety of an endangered cat can constitute ‘exigent circumstances’ even more so must a direct threat to the safety of the public in the area.’
It’s fortunate that Edwards was not actually involved in a car accident as a result of her feline cargo. It is worth noting that Edwards was not actually cited for any driving violations at the time, despite that confiscation of the animals.