Garden State drivers who fail to buckle up their cat or dog could face criminal charges as well as fines totaling up to $1,000, according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
“You should not be driving down the road under any circumstances with a dog driving the car,” said Elyse Coffey, a spokesperson for the New Jersey MVC. “We don’t want dogs driving with the steering wheel and we don’t want cats who sit on the dashboard.”
State officials are teaming up with the NJ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to enforce laws requiring motorists to “properly restrain their pets.”
The law forbids dogs from hanging out windows – and also from riding in the bed of a pickup truck.
Drivers who fail to do so could face fines from $250 to $1,000 – for each offense. They could also be charged with disorderly conduct under New Jersey’s animal cruelty statutes.
“As your family gets ready to embark on their family vacation, you take the time to buckle up your kids because you love them,” Coffey told Fox News Radio. “It’s also time to take a look at your furry family members.”
She said driving with a distracted animal in the car could be dangerous not only for the family pet, but also for other motorists.
Coffey cited a 2010 AAA survey indicating that 31 percent of drivers said they were distracted by their dog while driving.
“I hate to sound like we’re picking on dogs, but that’s normally the animal we’re talking about,” she said, noting that the law requires all animals to be buckled up.
“We’re not talking about dogs who will lay down nicely on the back seat,” she said. “We’re talking about cute lap dogs that sit on your lap and look like they are literally driving the car – or other dogs who hang so far out the window they could leap.”
A number of New Jersey motorists are calling the law ridiculous and overreaching.
“What nonsense,” one reader told the CBS television affiliate in Philadelphia. “I have an SUV that my dog rides in the back of. Why on Earth would I tie her down?”
“That is not overreaching,” Coffee said. “At any moment that dog could see something interesting and decide to jump out of the car.”
Another reader pondered, “Does that mean I have to buckle my puppy/kitten in an infant car seat?
Coffey said there are plenty of protective animal devices on the market.
“They are not constraining at all,” she said. ‘They simply prevent an animal – in case of a horrible accident – from becoming a projectile.”