A state representative started drafting the law after witnessing a near-crash where the driver was preoccupied with dogs in the vehicle.
The State of New Hampshire doesn't legally require adults to wear seatbelts while driving but hopes to restrict another dangerous habit practiced by many road users - driving with an animal on your lap.
A State Representative has drafted a bill that would make driving with "an animal of any size on their person" illegal, should it be approved. But it's caused quite a stir in the state, reports Associated Press. "I never in my wildest dreams thought that this would become one of the more controversial bills of the session, but by God, here we are," said Jennifer Rhodes, the Representative behind the bill.
Rhodes was moved to drafting this hotly-contested bill after she witnessed a driver nearly running a woman over in the street. The distracted motorist was allegedly preoccupied with two dogs on his lap while petting another.
"I had a golden opportunity to make a positive change, so I did it. I thought it was a no-brainer." Rhodes didn't anticipate the backlash the bill would bring. Soon, a horde of angry emails found their way to Rhodes' inbox, all expressing their disdain for the proposed law.
"If I am driving my ill dog (or cat, or other pet) to the vet for medical attention or to be euthanized, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will have (and have had) that animal in my lap for that possibly final trip with them," wrote one disgruntled citizen. "Please stay out of people's cars and let people have a small slice of happiness in the sanctity of their own vehicles."
Approximately 90 million households in the United States own a pet, meaning that plenty of Americans have transported their dog or cat in a vehicle, at some time or another.
Like texting while driving, a dog or cat on your lap is undoubtedly a distraction. Automakers have attempted to come up with solutions to keep both drivers and animals safe, but, for some reason, these restraint systems haven't caught on.
As mentioned, New Hampshire - known also as the Live Free or Die state - doesn't require adults to wear seatbelts. While we wouldn't recommend it, that's a choice an individual can make as it jeopardizes only their safety. However, distracted driving affects all road users.
Rhodes isn't trying to place a ban on pets traveling in vehicles or even require pet owners to use a restraint system. "If you want your dog to be in the backseat and have his head out the window, great. [Do] you want your dog to be in the passenger seat up there with you? That's great. All we're trying to do is say that the dog should not be on your person at all."
While other states don't have laws to prevent motorists from driving with pets on their laps, there are general distracted driving laws that could see drivers face charges. Interestingly, Hawaii is the only state that forbids drivers from partaking in this behavior, but Rhode Island, for example, notes that pets must be restrained or under the control of someone other than the driver.
New Hampshire's proposed bill would carry a penalty of $100, but residents are outraged by the idea. Rhodes believes a fair share of the naysayers are people who "really don't want to be told what to do" but others are genuinely concerned for their pets.
"They think that I'm somehow punishing them when I don't look at this as punishment in any way, shape, or form. I'm looking at it as the safety of the pet," she added.
Rhodes does have support from some prominent figures, including Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera who told the state House Transportation Committee that the practice of holding a dog on one's lap while driving is a hazard.
"I've seen drivers holding a pet with their left hand, and they're trying to look over the dog as they are driving down the road," he said.
What pet owners may not realize is just how dangerous it is to have a small dog or cat on your lap while driving. If the airbag were to go off, it would seriously injure or kill any small pet but, more worryingly, the device may not provide you with sufficient protection in a crash.
Brands like Jaguar sell an array of safety and comfort-enhancing items for dogs, and these accessories can easily be fitted to an E-Pace, for example. If people truly want to protect their fur babies, perhaps they should start by investing in the right equipment.
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