Opinions vary on legislating riding in cars with dogs

Matthew Goldstein has a pet peeve.

His problem is with drivers carrying pooches in their laps (get it? pet peeve) like they're some kind of graduate of the Paris Hilton Driving Academy.

"Holding a pet while driving has got to be a distraction and dangerous to those drivers," he said. "You can't drive with a small child in your lap, so I have to imagine that the same goes for pets."

Nevada hasn't specifically banned animal co-pilots. But our friends to the west, in California, might soon take the lead on the pet-auto safety front.

California Assemblyman Dave Maze has introduced a bill to outlaw driving with a pet on your lap. Offenders could face fines of up to $150.

Maze told the Los Angeles Times he introduced the bill after a car passed him with two large canines hanging out a window and a third perched in the driver's lap.

"It's a very dangerous thing for the drivers and others," Maze said. "It's a distraction."

Trooper Kevin Honea of the Nevada Highway Patrol agrees that a lap full of a Lhasa Apso, or any other breed of dog for that matter, can divert a driver's attention from the road.

But dogs fall in the same category as talking on cell phones, texting, eating, fiddling with the radio dial, applying mascara, reading a book or the multitude of other activities that Las Vegans let compete for their attention when it should be fully devoted to the road.

"Our approach is anything that takes your attention from driving, at that point you are under the influence of" that distraction, Honea said.

And in that case, you can be fined whether it's Fido the dog, Fluffy the cat or Funyuns the snack.

Other officials give similar assessments on the legality of lap dogs in traffic.

Capt. Richard Collins, head of the Metropolitan Police Department's traffic bureau said, "If the animal prevents ... or interferes with the safe driving, that person can be cited."

Collins is referring to Clark County code 14.60.190: "It is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle upon a highway without giving full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle."

Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said Nevada law has a similar provision that falls under reckless driving, but nothing specifically mentioning pets or animals.

Concern for pet safety on the road is growing, as evidenced by an aisle in the PetSmart store on Charleston Boulevard at Haulapai Way. There are harnesses and pet safety belts ranging in price from $20 to $60.

But I got mixed opinions from pet lovers on whether the laws on the books are adequate or something more is needed to protect pets.

Maga Zink, 22, knows she shouldn't allow her 5-year-old pooch Jack to ride in her lap, but can't resist once he starts whimpering.

"He gets scared in the car," she said of the mutt with at least a little Jack Russell Terrier in him.

Even if Jack is put in the back, he'll crawl up to the front and into Zink's lap.

"He get's hair everywhere," she said.

Zink wasn't interested in the government interfering with where Jack sits in her car.

Anita Grace said Princess, her 4-year-old short haired, black-and-tan Chihuahua, who often wears a dress, spends about 50 percent of the drive behind the wheel of the car barking at passing trucks, motorists and their pets.

Still, Grace thinks the California idea is smart thinking. If there were a law against driving with pets in your lap, she would follow it, Grace said.

"Common sense tells me that a dog can cause an accident, just like eating or talking on a cell (phone)," she said.

Carol Broeland agrees with the proposed California law, not only in principle but in practice too.

The 62-year-old doesn't let Scruffy, her 4-year-old Cairn Terrier (think Toto from the Wizard of Oz), ride in the front seat.

"It's just not safe. Even if someone taps you in the back your dog can go flying," Broeland said.

Of the California proposal, she says, "I think it's a good idea. A lot of people would ride motorcycles without helmets if the government didn't make them."

Still, Broeland doesn't want the Legislature out there tomorrow passing a similar law. She'd prefer to see an awareness campaign, instead.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com or fmccabe@reviewjournal.com. Please include your phone number.