STATE NEWS: North Carolina Law Would Make It Illegal to Drive with Pet on Lap


Driving while distracted is clearly a serious hazard. Lawmakers in North Carolina want to remove one more potential distracted driving danger: pets.

Distracted driving—texting, eating, putting on makeup, etc.—is a serious road hazard. Many states have enacted laws that restrict such distractions. Some states now include pets among those distractions, especially when the pet is seated in the driver’s lap.

A bill filed in the General Assembly of North Carolina would make it illegal to "operate a vehicle on a public street, highway, or public vehicular area while holding a live animal in the person's lap." The fine for offenders would be $100 plus court costs, with no points against the driver’s license.

“The General Assembly finds that the operation of a motor vehicle by a person holding a live animal in the person's lap must be prohibited as it is a distraction that endangers the safety of the driver, any passengers in the vehicle, others traveling in the same vicinity, and the animal,” says the bill.

The bill was filed by Assemblyman Garland Pierce (D), who pointed to reports of accidents caused by animals riding in drivers' laps.

"If [an animal riding in your lap while you’re driving] gets spooked, you're going to have a problem,” said Pierce. “The passenger and the animal could be hurt if you're in an accident."

The proposal generated debate on social media, with some applauding the bill and others demanding that focus be placed instead on driving under the influence or using mobile phones behind the wheel.

Other states have taken similar steps against driving with pets. Hawaii is currently the only state where it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while holding a pet in your lap, but a number of other states include unsafe pet travel as part of general distracted driving laws. Arizona, New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut, for example, give police the right to stop and fine drivers whose animals are causing a distraction, which may include lap driving.

"I had some constituents talking about it, that's where I get a lot of my ideas," said Pierce. "It protects the motorist. It protects the animal. It's just common sense."

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