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Is It Legal to Drive With Pets in Your Lap?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

Happy "Love Your Pet" Day! To mark this special occasion, pet lovers and annoyed drivers alike may be wondering: Is it legal to drive with pets in your lap?

The answer depends on your state's traffic laws. At least one state has an explicit statute that prohibits you from holding your pet while driving; in other states, drivers with animals in their laps can potentially be ticketed under distracted driving laws, according to USA Today.

Bottom line: Those with furry passengers on their person could be in for a bumpy ride. Here's what you need to know about driving with pets in your lap:

Driving With Pets Can Be Distracting

At least one state -- Hawaii -- makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while holding an animal in your lap (or even allowing an animal to be "in the driver's immediate area") if it interferes with the driver's ability to control the car.

New Jersey offers a slightly different example. Police in the Garden State can stop drivers who are improperly transporting animals, which can include dogs sitting in a driver's lap, according to the state's Motor Vehicle Commission. If caught, drivers could face up to $1,000 in fines, and can even be charged with animal cruelty if the offense is particularly bad.

In other states with general distracted driving laws, officers may still be able to ticket you for holding a pet on your lap if it affects your driving.

Distracted driving can include any activity that prevents you from driving safely -- even eating while driving can suffice. Because the definition of distracted driving is so vague, cops may be able to pull you over if cuddling your kitty is causing you to swerve all over the road. For example, Connecticut's general distracted driving law allows drivers to be charged for driving with pets in their laps, according to the state's Office of Legislative Research.

Protecting Pets as Passengers

Not only can it be illegal to drive with pets in your lap in certain situations, but it can also be very dangerous for Fido and friends. Think about it: You wouldn't let a child sit in the car without a seat belt because they could go flying if there's an accident. The same applies to pets.

Animals can act like "flying missiles" in an impact and can get severely injured -- or even hurt your other (human) passengers, according to USA Today. So if your pet is in the car, consider purchasing a restraint. For example, there are dog harnesses which can fit around a dog's body and clip into a seat belt buckle. Securing your pets when you're on the road not only keeps them safe, but can potentially prevent you from getting a ticket.

If you're still wondering if it's legal to drive in your state with a pet on your lap -- or if you've been cited for driving with pets and want to fight your ticket -- check with an experienced traffic law attorney in your area for more guidance.

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