December 17, 2009
PETS IN CARS AND DISTRACTED DRIVING
By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst
You asked whether a dog sitting in a driver's lap constitutes distracted driving under state law, and if any states require that drivers restrict dogs or other pets to prevent them from interfering with a vehicle's operation. The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to issue legal opinions and this should not be considered one.
Connecticut law does not explicitly bar drivers from allowing dogs or other animals to sit on their laps. But it does prohibit people from engaging in any activity in a motor vehicle that interferes with its safe operation on a highway. This could be construed to bar a driver from holding a pet on his or her lap if doing so prevents the driver from safely operating the vehicle.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Hawaii appears to be the only state that specifically prohibits a driver from operating a vehicle with a pet on his or her lap. The Hawaii law prohibits a driver from allowing an animal, person, or object to interfere with his or her control of the vehicle.
At least two states, California and Virginia, recently introduced measures that would bar a driver from having an animal on his or her lap. The California legislature passed the measure, which was vetoed by the governor. The Virginia measure did not pass.
Other states, such as Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine, have broader distracted driving laws that could be interpreted to prevent such behavior. For example, Maine enacted legislation in 2009 defining distracted driving as engaging in an activity that (1) is not necessary to the vehicle's operation and (2) actually impairs, or would be reasonably expected to impair, the driver's ability to operate the vehicle safely (29-A MRSA § 2117).
It is difficult to determine the extent to which pets distract drivers because distracted driving studies typically do not break out pet-caused distractions from the broader categories in which they are included. For example, pet-related problems fall under the broader categories of “internal distractions” (“Distractions in Everyday Driving,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2003) or “moving object in vehicle,” (“Distracted Driver Report,” Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 2004). These categories also include such behaviors as reaching for objects, tuning a car radio or CD-player, and trying to swat or get rid of flying insects.
CONNECTICUT DISTRACTED DRIVING LAW
Connecticut law does not explicitly bar people from allowing dogs or other animals to sit on their laps while driving a motor vehicle. But it does include a general provision that may apply in such cases.
CGS § 14-296aa (e) prohibits people from engaging in any activity in a motor vehicle that interferes with its safe operation on a highway. This provision would appear to prohibit a driver from holding a pet on his or her lap if it caused the driver to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner.
By law, a highway is any state or other public highway, road, street, avenue, alley, driveway, parkway, or place under the control of the state or its political subdivisions, dedicated, appropriated, or opened to public travel or other use (CGS § 14-1(a) (40)).
By law, a distracted driver who commits a moving violation (e.g., speeding or reckless driving) faces a $100 fine in addition to the penalty imposed for the moving violation.
LAWS IN OTHER STATES
Hawaii prohibits a driver from operating a motor vehicle while (1) holding in his or her lap or (2) allowing in the driver's immediate area, a person, animal, or object that interferes with the driver's control of the vehicle's driving mechanism (Hawaii Revised Statutes § 291C-124).
California and Virginia have considered legislation prohibiting drivers from having a pet in their laps.
In 2008, the California legislature passed AB 2233 (http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_2201-2250/ab_2233_cfa_20080411_140153_asm_comm.html) which would have barred anyone from driving a motor vehicle with a live animal in his or her arms or on his or her lap. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.
Also in 2008, the Virginia legislature considered, but did not adopt, HB 533 (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?081+ful+HB533), which would have prohibited anyone from driving a motor vehicle with an animal (1) on his or her lap, (2) impeding his or her free access to, and use of, vehicle controls, or (3) obstructing his or her vision.
There were several articles written about these and other state proposals, which can be found on-line at: http://www.stateline.org/live/details/story?contentId=356407, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/uptospeed/2008/08/pets-car-safety.html, and http://www.redorbit.com/modules/news/tools.php?tool=print&id=1372138.
We have attached OLR Report 2001-R-0453, which reports on state laws on careless, inattentive, or negligent driving.
We also have attached an AAA table of state distracted driving laws. Most of the laws deal specifically with text messaging and cell phones, but a few refer more generally to distracted driving.
Many humane societies and other animal welfare organizations recommend that pet owners place their dogs and cats in carrying crates or other forms of restraint when transporting them by car, both for the safety of the animal and the vehicle's occupants. Information from some of these organizations is available at http://www.barkbuckleup.com/ and http://www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/caring_for_pets_when_you_travel/traveling_by_car.html.
A number of states, including Connecticut, require that drivers of pick-up trucks secure any dogs they may be carrying in the back of the vehicle. We have attached a summary of those laws.