Buckle Up Your Pets: It's the Law

Buckle Up Your Pets: It's the Law

What dog doesn't love sticking their head out of the car window? Not only isn't this the safest way for your pet to ride in the car, but it's even illegal in some states. Learn more here.

You may know that driving without properly restraining your pet can be potentially dangerous for your furry friend, but did you know that it's illegal in some states? New Jersey just passed a law requiring drivers to restrain pets inside their cars; this means pets can’t lean their heads out of windows or sit in drivers’ laps. So if you’re driving in New Jersey, make sure you watch out; owners with unrestrained pets can receive a fine of $250-$1000, or even a disorderly offence under animal cruelty.

The aim of the New Jersey Law

"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," says Frank Rizzo, Superintendant of New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The new law allows NJSPCA officers to pull drivers that they believe to be transporting animals improperly. “We’re not talking about dogs who will lay down nicely on the back seat,” says Elyse Coffee about the New Jersey law. “We’re talking about cute lap dogs that sit on your lap and look like they are literally driving the car – or other dogs who hang so far out the window they could leap.”

Other states with lap-laws

While New Jersey has the strictest regulations regarding pet-safety on the road, plenty of other states have laws about safe animal transport. In Hawaii, drivers face a $97 fine for riding with pets in their laps, and rolling the windows down without a doggy-restraint can result in a $57 fine.  Other states like Maine, Connecticut, and Arizona use the distracted driver law as a way to target drivers with pets in their laps.

Riding unrestrained in open pickup truck beds

Still, New Jersey and Hawaii are pioneers in animal safety. Most states only ask that drivers secure animals that are riding in open vehicles. Sadly, 100,000 dogs die each year falling from or jumping out of pickup truck beds. Responding to this large number, a total of ten states have passed laws requiring drivers to restrain any pets riding in open parts of a moving vehicle. While the details vary from state to state, if you secure your pet in a crate or harness so they can’t fall out of the truck bed, you shouldn’t get trouble from law enforcement.

Are restraint laws really necessary?

Perhaps you think the new laws are too invasive. After all, the laws take away canines’ favorite part of driving: heads out of the windows, cheeks flapping in the air. But pet-related car crashes show that this slice of freedom can come at a high cost. In one case, an unrestrained dog suddenly leapt into a driver’s lap, blocking his view. Tragically, the driver lost control and crashed his car head-on into oncoming traffic, resulting in the death of another driver, Geoffrey Reynolds, and the terrier involved in the accident.

Important Safety Precautions

Whether or not your state has laws regarding pet-transport, you can still take safety precautions. While harnesses are the best way to keep your beloved pooch from going airborne in the unfortunate event of an accident, there are many ways to make pets safe. Keeping dogs out of the front seat is a way to ensure that the driver can stay focused, making the ride safer for both furry and human passengers. For animals that climb up to the front seat even when they’re placed in the back, consider securing them in a crate. If your dog’s crate doesn’t fit in the car, you can buy a barrier to keep them out of the front seat.  

If the laws are any indication, buckling up pets is becoming the standard. In Frank Rizzo’s words, "You wouldn't put your child in the car unrestrained, so you shouldn't put your pet in the car unrestrained, either." Harnesses are widely available at pet retailers, and considering the potential loss of human and animal life, they seem to easily be worth their low cost.

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