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NJ Gets Tough on Driving With Unrestrained Pets

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harlequin dog (leaning out car window)New Jersey, the only state in the U.S. in which driving with pets loose in a vehicle is a violation of animal cruelty law, is cracking down on that law, according to recent news reports. As Meghan Neal writes in the New York Daily News, “Drivers cited for failing to properly secure their pet can face a ticket of between $250 and $1,000 and as much as six months in jail.”

And “That’s for each offense,” Col. Frank Rizzo told reporters Wednesday at Overlook County Park in Leonia, as John Cichowski, columnist for’s Road Warrior blog, reports. “So, if you have more than one animal loose in your car, just do the math…,” Cichowski said.

In addition to facing fines, pet owners could be charged with disorderly conduct under New Jersey’s animal cruelty statutes, lawyer Greta Van Susteren, who hosts a cable TV news commentary show, notes on her blog, Gretawire. Allowing pets to hang their heads out the window while you are driving, having them ride in the back of a truck, or letting them sit on the driver’s lap are also violations of the law, writes Charlotte Reed for

As John Woestendiek writes for ohmidog!:

While some reports are calling the doggie seat belt mandate a new law, the Bergen Record’s Road Warrior column reports that leaving your dog unrestrained in the back seat of your car violates state statute 4:22:18, which is 16 years old.

(An unbuckled adult human in the back seat only became illegal in New Jersey three years ago.) […]

‘It’s much cheaper to invest about $25 in a restraint system than to deal with the consequences of a crash,’ said MVC [Motor Vehicle Commission] Chief Administrator Ray Martinez, who used his own golden retriever-poodle mix to show reporters how to harness a dog into a back seat.

Road Warrior reports that few if any violators have received jail terms in the 16 years the unrestrained dogs law has been in effect. quotes Rizzo:

‘You wouldn’t put your child in the car unrestrained so you shouldn’t put your pet in the car unrestrained either,’ said Col. Rizzo. ‘What people come to realize only too late is that animals act like flying missiles in an impact and can not only hurt themselves but hurt their human family members too.’ […]

While pets can be a danger in the car, they are also a hazard if they’re not buckled up because an unrestrained pet in an accident can delay emergency workers from acting and can even run away, which could cause another accident.

Gretawire notes that New Jersey is not the only state with dog passenger laws. Hawaii, Van Susteren says, prohibits drivers from holding a pet on their lap, while in Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine drivers with pets on their laps can be charged under distracted driving laws.

Road Warrior writes:

Driver inattention is the leading cause of road deaths in New Jersey and nationally, according to 2010 National Highway Transportation Administration figures — 5,400 nationwide and 130 statewide.

NHTSA doesn’t tally animal deaths, but Rizzo noted that traditional safety devices can be lethal for unrestrained pets.

‘If you drive with your dog in your lap,’ he said, ‘imagine what happens if the airbag deploys.’

Here is a video in which Wisconsin veterinarian Dr. Kathy Hillestad discusses how to secure pets in cars:

Image by br1dotcom (Bruno Cordioli), used under its Creative Commons license.


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