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An Oregon lawmaker wants to ban you from driving with Fido in your lap

An Oregon lawmaker has introduced a measure that would prohibit a person from driving with a dog on his or her lap. In this picture, Ginny, a 12-month-old Beardie Whippet Cross, drives a modified Mini Countryman on a race track in Auckland, New Zealand. The SPCA said they trained three dogs to drive cars for a series of events to publicize the adoption of animals looked after by the shelter, claiming “you can teach an SPCA dog new tricks”. Picture taken December 10, 2012. (REUTERS/SPCA/Michael Bradley/Handout)
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An Oregon lawmaker says driving with man’s best friend on your lap may be as distracting as yapping on your smartphone.

So, state Sen. Bill Hansell (R) has introduced a bill that would prohibit the practice.

The idea for the legislation, SB556, came from a constituent who said she saw another driver traveling down the road and paying more attention to the dog than the road. And it turns out that, if passed, the state that gave us “Portlandia” wouldn’t even be the first to enact a ban on four-footed co-pilots.

“Distracted driving is something that is very detrimental and causes accidents and deaths and injuries,”Hansell said in an interview. “And we focus mostly, I think, on cell phones and driving hands free and that sort of thing.”

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In my experience with Oregon  – admittedly a long time ago, as a U.S. Forest Service volunteer in the Eagle Cap Wilderness  – there seemed to be a law in place that obliged everyone to travel with a large dog in the flatbed of a pickup. That’s not what Hansell has in mind. He acknowledged that he hasn’t found any statistics to back up the perception that driving with a pooch in one’s lap is dangerous.

“I felt it was a kind of policy that made sense,” he said. “And if we’re serious about distracted driving, intuitively it just makes sense that driving with live animals in your lap can be a distraction.”

AAA, which urges using animal restraints in vehicles for the safety of people and pets, says a lot of people ride with pets and a large number are distracted by them. In a 2011 survey with a pet products company, AAA found that 17 percent of the respondents drove with dogs in their laps. Twenty-nine percent admitted being distracted by a pet, and 65 percent admitted engaging in a distracted behavior with their dog, such by petting it. (Four percent admitted playing with their dog while driving.) In October 2012, a woman and her pet chihuahua were both killed in an accident that the Washington State Patrol says was caused by distracted driving involving the pet, local media reported.

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Some states have enacted laws intended to protect the driver and some motivated by trying to protect the animal. At least one state, Hawaii, has a standalone traffic law that prohibits driving with a pet on one’s lap; New Jersey has a law that allows officers with the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal to fine drivers traveling with an improperly restrained animal.

Hansell’s bill – whose introduction was reported by The Bulletin in Bend, Ore. —  has been filed ahead of the Oregon Legislative Assembly’s annual session, which begins Feb. 1. The presumptive fine for the offense – which would be a Class D violation in Oregon’s code – would be $110 with a maximum of $250.

He said part of his motive in introducing the bill is to start a discussion.  But he suspects it may also cause a fuss.

“I’m sure there will be, but I haven’t received it personally myself,” he said.


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