That ever so quiet jingle of your keys as you pick them up off the counter always sends your pup spiraling out of control towards the front door, hoping to accompany you on a car ride. Whether it be a trip to the vet, a ride to pick up the kids, a road trip or just a ride for bonding time, car rides are one of your dog’s favorite things to do. Taking your best friend along, riding as your co-pilot, is fun and it is certainly nice to have your pup right up front next to you.
Getting out, ears flopping in the wind, soaking in the sunshine is good for your dog. Your pup is man’s best friend and taking your companion along with you for a coffee run is therapeutic and relaxing for both of you. Dogs are absolutely a member of the family and as owners, we want them with us at all times.
Is it legal?
However, is it legal? That depends on the state. In some states, your dog riding shotgun can bring on some ramifications, as it is considered to be distracting to the driver. Some states will actually ticket a driver if a dog is in the front set acting up and distracting the driver from the road. If you are driving and traveling with your dog in your car, knowing and understanding the dog restraint rules that are required and enforced in your state and any other states you may be driving in (or through on a road trip) is paramount.
So, although it technically is not classified as illegal, because the act of having your furry friend in the passenger seat can result in a distracted driver, which can lead to reckless and careless driving, it is pretty well frowned upon. There are rules, restrictions, and laws that are put into place that involve distracted driving, obstructed view of the driver and failure to maintain your lane. If your dog winds up being viewed as a contributing factor to you failing to operate your vehicle safely or within the parameters of the law, then essentially, having your dog up front with you is contributing to other infractions.
The act of driving while distracted refers to any activity or disturbance that takes away attention from the road while driving. This can include changing the radio, talking on the phone, texting, watching videos on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle and playing with or trying to calm down your dog. If your pup is bouncing all over the front seat, excited that you are near the dog park, or howling at the car next to you, when you give your attention to this behavior, you are distracted.
Distractions are said to ultimately compromise the safety of everyone: the driver, passengers, bikers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and anyone around the vehicle. Not only does distracted driving result in citations, but it can result in fatalities. In fact, there are three types of distractions drivers may face: manual, visual and cognitive.
Manual distractions encompass anything that ultimately ends up taking your hands off of the wheel. So, if your dog is jumping around, chewing on something he or she is not supposed to, or just in need of a pet or a rub down, if your hands are coming off of the wheel, you are manually distracted.
Visual distractions are anything that takes your eyes off of the road. If you are watching your dog because he or she is sleeping like a little precious angel, or because you fear they may be jumping out of the window, you are visually distracted.
Cognitive distractions involve anything that takes your mind off of the task at hand: driving. Driving requires a lot of thinking. You are watching the road, planning lane changes, using turn signals, watching other drivers, thinking about where you need to go, and watching your speed. If you are thinking about how cute your pup is while he or she is panting and smiling up at you, or how you can calm him or her down, you are cognitively distracted.
In short, a dog can be and most likely is all three types of distractions at the same time. Distracted driving needs to be taken seriously, and due to the dangers it poses, you can be ticketed for it.
Obstructed view while driving is a no-no. Many of the state statutes in the USA have some sort of law along the same lines. It incorporates ensuring that when your vehicle is loaded with people, objects or other items (including your dog), it is still possible for you to see everything that you must be able to see to safely operate the vehicle. Obstructing your view while driving can lead to a traffic violation, even if a car accident is not part of the equation.
Basically, any time you are unable to see out of your windshield, side view or rearview mirrors, you are committing an infraction. So, if your pup is in the way, essentially, you are breaking the law.
Failure to Maintain a Lane
A common traffic violation, failure to maintain a single lane, can be a hefty citation to take on. It is a pretty universal law across all fifty states and it reads something like this in each state: “When any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, any vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.”
This means that you need to stay in the lane you are in while making proper lane changes when correctly signaled using your left and right turn signals when it is safe to do so. When police witness a vehicle swerving and crossing over or touching the lane lines, they then have the probable cause to pull the vehicle over. A citation can then be issued for failing to maintain a single lane.
It should also be mentioned that if your pup is causing you to swerve all over the road, it is absolutely agreeable that a citation should be issued, as this is a huge safety hazard to you, to your dog, and to others sharing the road.
Reckless and Careless Driving
Reckless driving is a serious offense in the driving world. It is a huge moving violation that involves driving a moving vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard” for the safety of all vehicles and people around your vehicle. It is a criminal charge, a misdemeanor in most, if not all states. If the driver is aware that they are driving in a way that put other people or their property at a great risk, they may be charged with reckless driving.
Not only does reckless driving incur points on your driver’s license, but in most states, being convicted of reckless driving warrants up to one thousand dollars in fines and/or anywhere from ninety days to a year in jail. Could you imagine going to jail because you became so distracted by your dog that you jeopardized a bunch of lives and the general safety of others? It is a serious offense.
There are also some other things to consider when it comes to having your dog in the front seat while you are traveling.
What happens when you get points on your license?
Most states document your driving history with a point system. These points are added to your driver’s license when you are cited and ticketed for moving infractions and violations. When and if you wind up accruing too many points over a particular time period, your license can, unfortunately, end up being suspended or even revoked.
Obviously, if you want your fur baby up front with you riding shotgun, you adore your dog. There is no doubt about that. We discussed the safety of you, your pup, and others on the road with you. However, let’s hone in on your dog.
Let’s take a second to think about this: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises that children under the age of thirteen years old should not be up front with you. This actually has to do more with size than age, because the way that the airbags in your vehicle are positioned, it could be very harmful to the small person in the event that a crash and impact occurs, setting off the airbags.
Now, based off of findings from the American Veterinary Medical Association, these risky concerns with airbags also apply to our fur babies. If your pup is in your lap or the passenger seat, in the event of a crash, he or she could be terribly injured or killed by an airbag going off. Airbags are designed to provide a cushion for humans of a certain weight high enough to safely sustain a blow. Your dog may not be able to handle this blow.
Although it is not as severe as the safety of your dog and of others, the comfort of your pup is important too. Sitting straight up for a long time on a road trip or even just a longer drive may prove to be slightly uncomfortable for your dog. If you plan to be in the car for a long length of time, your dog requires support and comfort for their bodies. If they are too large to be able to lay down on the seat next to you, it can be very stressful for them as they try to find a way to get comfortable. In the back, your pup will have more room to sprawl out and get cozy for the ride. You can even provide a blanket.
While on the topic of crashes, let’s talk about restraining your pup properly. We wear seatbelts to protect us from being ejected. Our dogs (at least the vast majority of them) are smaller than us and more fragile. In the event of an accident, if your fur baby is not properly restrained, he or she can go flying and possible hit against the dashboard, window, or worse, through your windshield. This could seriously hurt, if not take the life of your dog.
If your dog is ejected out of the car, he or she could then become frightened and startled and run and dart right into traffic. After a collision, your pup is likely to be confused, in shock and traumatized you’re your dog is physically able to, he or she will most likely do everything possible to get away. The list of terrible possibilities, in this case, are endless. If your dog is properly restrained in the back seat, he or she will be safest. You also will be putting yourself at much less of a risk of being distracted by your fur baby, leading to traffic violations.
Some states even have laws that require you to restrain your dog in the car, and it is easy to see and understand why. This will protect you, your dog, and everyone around your vehicle while in motion.
Each state has its own laws on driving with your pup, but they each reach the same consensus: if your dog is in the front seat, he or she is most likely to be a distraction to your driving. This distraction can come in three forms: manual, visual and cognitive. A distraction can lead to a number of traffic infractions and citations including obstructed view, failure to maintain a lane and reckless driving. These infractions can incur points on your license that can add up over time. Aside from the legal ramifications, having your furry friend in the front seat with you is a safety hazard. Keep everyone safe and keep your pup harnessed in the back! It may save a life.