On July 1st, the state of Georgia enacted the Hands-Free Georgia Act, a law that prohibits drivers from holding or even touching their phones while on the road. In South Carolina, it's only illegal to text while driving, holding the phone while talking is still permitted, at least for now. Legislators in our state are considering backing a similar bill and if it gains enough support, we could see the same restrictions soon.
Over the last few years, we've been increasingly inundated with warnings and public service campaigns about cell phone use while driving, which has cost far too many lives and forced nearly every state to develop some sort of law against it. Many call them "distracted driving laws". But your phone is just one of many driving distractions that can dangerously interfere with safety on the road.
Scarfing down a quick bite to eat, applying makeup, and as innocent as it seems and as happy as it makes your pup, driving with a dog in your lap is an irresponsible and dangerous driving distraction.
So far, only two states, Hawaii and New Jersey have taken notice of the problem and enacted laws against it to reduce the danger. But even in states where there is no specific law banning driving with a pet on your lap, depending on the state, drivers could still be cited under more broad distracted driving laws. And if a driver were involved in a crash while holding a pet in their lap, the potential exists for distracted driving being used as evidence of negligence or recklessness in an injury lawsuit.
While no statistics exist yet to determine how many accidents have been caused by pets riding in drivers laps, the potential for catastrophe is very real. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, "Looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash."
Even the calmest dog can be startled by a horn, or excited by the sight of a squirrel crossing the road, and it only takes a moment for Fido to suddenly block your vision, knock your hand off the wheel, or tumble onto the floor blocking your access to the brake pedal.
If the potential danger to yourself or others on the road isn't enough to sway you away from allowing your dog behind the wheel, consider the potential harm that could come to him if you were involved in even a minor fender bender, at fault or not. Unrestrained, your dog could be thrown toward the windshield, tossed through an open window, or crushed by a deployed airbag.
All in all, it's just too great a risk to yourself, to other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and to your pup to allow lap time while operating a motor vehicle, when there are a number of comfortable and affordable pet restraint solutions available, including partitions and barriers, pet car seats, and even their own seat belt.
Avoid the risk and the disapproving glares - keep your pet off of your lap while you drive and focus on the road while they focus on joy of the ride.
Speaking of pets and cars, did you know you can help shelter pets by getting rid of your old clunker? It's easy and free to donate your old car to help more pets get a chance at a forever home: call 855-500-RIDE (7433) or visit LetLoveLive.org/donate to start the process.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the Albrecht Center since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA Albrecht Center.