Is It Illegal to Drive With a Pet on Your Lap?

It isn’t uncommon to see someone driving along with a dog looking out the driver’s seat window rather than in the back with a pet carrier. You may have also been tempted to do it yourself. For many pet owners, it begins as a way to calm the dog down on a first car ride or something similar. However, it does make us question whether driving with a pet on your lap complies with car safety measures. Beyond that, is driving with a dog in your lap legal or not?

Is it illegal to have a pet in your lap while driving?

A pair of pet dogs in a car on World Animal Day
A pair of pet dogs in a car | Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Driving with a pet in your lap is not explicitly illegal in many areas. In 2019, only one state, Hawaii, would fine you for having Fido sit with you in the driver’s seat. If caught, you could have to pay a $97 fine. However, according to Paul Giannetti Attorney At Law, driving with a pet on your lap could be considered distracted driving.

For instance, in Connecticut, it would fall under a distracted driving law that clearly states you must not be doing anything other than operating your vehicle. Wisconsin also passed an inattentive driving law that made it wrong for you to be engaged or occupied by anything other than driving.

However, this is changing as we put more effort into distracted driving laws around the country. One example is Florida, which tried to crack down enough that it could be breaking the law to be holding anything in your hands while driving in 2019. It failed to pass, but they did make it illegal to have a phone in your hand.

Even if it isn’t “illegal” to drive with pets in the front seat, it can still lead to problems, especially if you are caught doing it in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Minnesota. They are states that can fine you for not only distracted driving but for other animal-related laws, according to Parade.   

The reason is simple. You put yourself and your best friend in danger by having them on your lap where they could hit the steering wheel or distract you in other ways. Dogs, even small ones, can block your view of the road when they get excited and start bouncing around in the vehicle.

Dogs are not the only pets that may cause problems, though. Cats have been partially to blame for car accidents as well. A young woman was reportedly driving with her cat, got distracted, and swerved into oncoming traffic. The accident injured several people, and the cat did not survive it.

A better way to handle it is to learn how to drive with your pet safely.

A better way to drive around your pet

When riding with a pet, whether to the vet or for a bit of fun, safe driving must be a primary concern for you and your pet. Much the same as with your child, the safest place for them to ride is in the back seat of your car while adequately restrained.

The back seat will ensure that if you are in an accident, your vehicle’s airbags will not cause injury or death to your pet. Smaller dogs are at greater risk for injuries from the airbag, but even large breed dogs can get hurt.

As for restraints, you may be wondering how to make that work. Dogs and cats are not likely to sit in a seatbelt, but you can improvise. If hauling a cat, you can put it in a cat carrier and secure it with seat belts. For a dog, you can tether them to the seatbelts or anything else you have in the back seat. If you do this, you will want to ensure that the leash is short enough to keep them in the back seat. You may also have the option to put your pet in a car seat.

If you have a truck, you can use a crate to keep your dog safely inside. Tie it off to the bed of your truck and keep them secured even better. This will also help you to ensure that all of them will be kept safely inside the vehicle.

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