Pet Seat Belts Debated In New Jersey; Proposed Law Would Make Unrestrained Animals Illegal

Proposed Law Would Require Pets To Wear Seatbelts

A New Jersey Assemblywoman who wants to make seat belts mandatory for family pets is earning mixed reviews from her constituents and fellow lawmakers, according to The New Jersey Star Ledger.

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex) -- who owns a Pomeranian named A.J., as well as five cats and a rabbit, according to Bloomberg -- has introduced a bill that would require motorists to secure dogs and cats in a seat belt-like harness if they’re not being transported in crates.

Drivers found to be disobeying the proposed law would get a $20 ticket, the Ledger reports. Some could also be charged with animal cruelty, an offense with a fine of up to $1,000. If enacted, New Jersey would have the toughest animal seat belt law in the United States.

Spencer, a liability lawyer, said her bill was inspired by a fourth-grade class at a Newark charter school as well as the story of a small dog injured when its owner made a sudden stop. But as the Village Voice points out, there are other reasons why such a bill might make sense. Like unbuckled humans, unsecured pets can act as potentially dangerous "backseat bullets" if not buckled up during a car wreck.

There's also a distraction factor at play. Texting and driving is generally considered hazardous, and in many states illegal. People with dogs and cats in their laps can be similarly putting themselves and others at risk, according to Ray Martinez, head of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.

"It’s not cute. It’s actually dangerous for the driver. It’s dangerous for other drivers and it’s dangerous for that pet,” Martinez told CBS Philly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 15 people are killed and more than 1,200 people are injured in crashes that were reported to involve a distracted driver. And a AAA survey found that 1 out of 3 dog owners admit to being distracted by their dog while driving, with 2 out of 3 admit to engaging in distracting activities with their dog while driving.

Some safety advocates are enthusiastic about the legislation, but other New Jersey politicians are less excited. Led by Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber, some lawmakers have introduced their own bill clarifying that the failure to buckle up animals is not cruel or inhumane, the Ledger reports.

Webber probably has a would-be supporter in Rocco, an adorable dog who does not seem to appreciate his owner's insistence on a safety harness.

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