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Salem Watch: Bill would outlaw driving with an animal in your lap

Posted by on March 3rd, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Cute, but safe?
(Photo: Sent in by reader)

There’s a new front in the war on distracted driving: lap animals. State Senator Ginny Burdick is the sponsor of Senate Bill 160, which would create a new traffic violation for, “operating a vehicle when an animal is in the operator’s lap.” The offense would come with a maximum fine of $90.

I never thought too much of the traffic safety implications of unrestrained pets until last month when a woman was distracted by her dog prior to running into and seriously injuring a man bicycling on SW Multnomah Blvd. (That man, Reese Wilson, continues his recovery while the case is still working its way through the legal system).

Then a reader shared a link to an AP story a few weeks before the Multnomah incident titled, Do pets pose another threat to safe driving?. Here’s a snip from the lede:

While lawmakers have been banning drivers from texting or using cell phones, many motorists are riding around with another dangerous risk — their dogs.

Experts say an unrestrained dog — whether curled up on a lap, hanging out the window or resting its paws on the steering wheel — can be deadly. Tens of thousands of car accidents are believed caused every year by unrestrained pets, though no one has solid numbers.

A representative from Senator Burdick’s office told us this morning that this bill came out of discussions they had last session after working on cell phone use legislation. “We’re concerned about driver distraction and we’re trying to take it one step at a time.”

SB 160 is slated for a public hearing and possible work session in the Senate Business Transportation and Economic Development Committee on March 14th. We’ll keep you posted.

— See all our coverage of the 2011 legislative session here.

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  • Perry Hunter March 3, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    The fine should be much (3x) higher, and charged per unrestrained animal in the car.

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    • Perry Hunter March 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      Yeah, that does sound tight. Meant to say “where they can interfere with the driver”. It’s not the dog’s (or, even cat’s) fault – it’s the driver who’s not taking the responsibility seriously enough.

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  • Nick V March 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    1. When our dog is in the car, she’s in the back seat. I worry about her safety back there if we come to a sudden stop, but she would never put up with a seatbelt or restraining device…..What to do?

    2. As far as I can tell, the cell phone law is not being enforced so hopefully this would be different???

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    • Alan 1.0 March 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      She’ll put up with it if you insist on it. She can still turn around, sit up, lie down, even stick her nose out the window. Introduce it to her gently, with treats and praise, and short fun trips to start. You could be saving her life, or yours or your family’s.

      (I use this brand.)

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    • Kt March 4, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Who is in charge here? You or the dog? Sounds to me like the dog is in charge.

      My dog gets tethered in the back of my car. He wears a harness and I hook a short lead to the harness, and attach it to a carabiner hooked to one of the tie downs in the back of my Forester. He’s safe, I’m safe, and if a crash happens, emergency personnel can work on me without having to worry about the Jaws of Crazy.

      You don’t need to purchase a special harness/lead/attachment system. Everything you need can be found at your local pet store. But some of those specially-made ones are really nice.

      Besides that: if you drive with your dog on your lap, and you have a front-end collision, your dog could end up severely injured– not to be too graphic, but there’s the steering wheel and steering column, your chest, the airbag exploding….

      It’s sad that we have to legislate common sense, but apparently, that’s what is lacking in the citizens of this state.

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  • 9watts March 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    When compared to the fine that some cyclists have gotten for not putting their foot down at a stop sign ($241 if I remember correctly), this fine seems kind of lax to me, too. Didn’t we have a discussion a while back about how these rates get set and why some of them at least are such odd numbers?
    I certainly can’t think of any cyclist who failed to put their foot down at a stop sign subsequently (and because of that infraction) nearly killing another person.

    But it is good to know our legislators are looking out for us.
    As for cute, I don’t even think it is cute. There have been plenty of times when I was biking along the right shoulder when out of nowhere suddenly I discover a snarling canine barking at me at head level–from a position equivalent to the one you show in your article. Grrr. Talk about a safety risk and a discouragement to timid bikers.

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  • 9watts March 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    And for that matter why limit this infraction to dogs or other pets in the driver’s lap? How about unrestrained, period?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm

      I asked the same thing of Burdick’s office. The rep I spoke to said they felt requiring a restraint was too burdensome on drivers because of the costs of restraint products.

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      • Alan 1.0 March 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm

        That’s just silly. The first hit at Amazon for “dog car restraints” is $14.67. The heavy-duty harness I use on my dog was under $50.

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        • Spiffy March 4, 2011 at 7:18 am

          yes, so if you can afford to drive then you can afford to restrain your animal… but I’m still against it…

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      • El Biciclero March 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm

        Pffft. Cuz child seats/restraints are so cheap…

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        • El Biciclero March 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

          Oops, forgot–you can also usually choose to leave Fido at home in a cage or fenced yard. Not so with Junior.

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  • A.K. March 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    And if this law is taken as seriously as the cell phone ban and basically not enforced, people will just keep doing it.

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  • Alan 1.0 March 3, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Candace Parker, who struck Reese Wilson with her car, was turning around in her seat to deal with her dog. Do we know whether the dog was restrained or not? (IOW, restraining pets isn’t a guarantee that the driver won’t act poorly.)

    My .02: Deal with all out-of-control drivers in a way that preemptively discourages such actions (high enough penalties) rather than specify some behaviors that might sometimes lead to loss of control but aren’t actually the equivalent of losing control. Hitting a pedestrian, bike, or most anything else is de facto evidence of out-of-control, with far fewer excuses than are presently allowed.

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    • Pete March 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm

      Much agreed, it’s the driver’s responsibility that needs to be regulated (and enforced) not the pet’s. I used to have a cat that would travel with us on camping trips in my van. She was mellow, would sleep on the dashboard in the sun on the passenger’s side, then go in the back and curl up on the bed (she was old and slow). Not sure if I could be fined under this regulation but there’s no way this animal would interfere with my operation of the vehicle, which I take as the utmost responsibility when I’m driving. Was just watching news of people driving pickups through store windows (my foot slipped), a woman standing next to her Cadillac Esplanade saying the Libyans are killing us by making gas prices so high… would love to see people accountable for their own actions!

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  • q`Tzal March 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    From Bill 160: {+ added legal wording +} my emphasis
    Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
    SECTION 1. { + Section 2 of this 2011 Act is added to and made
    a part of the Oregon Vehicle Code. + }
    SECTION 2. { + (1) A person commits the offense of driver
    operation with obstructing animal if the person is operating a
    vehicle when an animal is in the operator’s lap.
    (2) The offense described in this section, driver operation
    with obstructing animal, is a Class D traffic violation. + }
    SECTION 3. { + Section 2 of this 2011 Act applies to offenses

    Needs to include wording to address obstructing in any way. Things like people that let their pets lounge in the back window area behind the rear seating or anywhere that an animal is obstructing safe driving of the vehicle.
    When young and newly married my wife and I picked up a very small puppy. I was in the driver’s seat and she was holding the little fluff ball in the passenger seat. Just as went to put the car in to drive, from park, the runt of the litter wrestled free of her grasp and he made a suicidal bee-line straight for the underside of the brake pedal. Had we been in motion I would have been unable to stop the vehicle.
    THIS NEEDS to be a ticketable offense.

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  • nuovorecord March 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    If people want to complain about government, this is Exhibit A. But not in the way most people would think. Driving with an animal in your lap is an absolutely stupid thing to do. Yet it’s the lack of common sense exhibited by plenty of people that has led to this law being proposed. I’m fine with it being passed, but I doubt it will get enforced any more than the cell phone law does.

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  • Ron March 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Howdy–

    Sorry to go off-topic, but people were really ticketed for not putting a foot down? I’m still fairly new to the state, but I think I’ve read most of the state code that pertains to bicycles, and I can’t recall ever seeing that requirement.

    I often come to a complete stop for traffic control devices, but I rarely put a foot down. Can anyone describe the specific infraction?
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg
    Corvallis

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    • BicycleDave March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      There may have been a few ticketed for this, but it is not required to put a foot down to come to a complete stop.

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      • El Biciclero March 4, 2011 at 12:12 pm

        Breaking the law is not required for receiving a ticket, either…

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      • Pete March 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm

        Not in the ORS, but I’ve heard there are a few communities that put it into city statute. I could be mistaken but I heard Forest Grove is one. This subject came up on BP several years ago so it may be able to be found with a site search.

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  • eli bishop March 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    at least they are finally considering a law based on a verified risk!

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  • Paul Souders March 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    What a joke. Instead of passing a spate of rinkydink laws against the symptoms of bad driving, how about getting bad drivers off the road?

    I respectfully submit that if you’re doing crap like texting while driving or messing with your dog while driving or doing anything other than looking at the road while you’re driving, you shouldn’t be driving at all?

    Wouldn’t it be great if a driver’s license actually indicated an ability to drive?

    I’ve been driving 25 years and I’ve only had two tests. The last one was 15 years ago. (And only on the first one — 25 years ago — was I actually required to DRIVE.) This is a farce. Obtaining a driver’s license should be at least as hard as eighth grade.

    If a car hits anything that isn’t a car, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the driver isn’t entirely capable of driving a car.

    And while I’m dreaming, how about some strict liability for motorists?

    But y’know, pass some laws about dogs or something. That will totally work.

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    • Opus the Poet March 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      Why stop at hitting non-cars? Hit anything, and take a retest for your license. Unless it was something really off the wall anytime you hit something there was something you could have done to avoid it. Thre are very few real “accidents” but lots of wrecks.

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      • A.K. March 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm

        That is actually a brilliant idea. If you are determined to be at-fault for an accident you should need to have a retest, with perhaps an emphasis on what caused your accident (speeding, tail-gating, etc etc).

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        • Spiffy March 4, 2011 at 7:22 am

          and in Oregon no-fault means at-fault so you’re putting a huge strain on the DMV budget…

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          • El Biciclero March 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm

            “…strain on the DMV budget…”

            Au contraire, mon frere–something like this could be a huge revenue and new-job generator. Cost of a mandatory license re-test due to causing a crash? $800 payable to the DMV for their trouble. That would be on top of the citation fine for any infraction that caused the crash, unless the judge wanted to waive the citation on completion (with a passing score!) of the re-test. It could even be an insurance add-on: license re-test fee coverage.

            There are so many clueless drivers out there that the DMV could be the most profitable agency in the state. Self-sustaining, even.

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    • Kt March 4, 2011 at 9:56 am

      Paul, I think I love you.

      ;)

      Your comment took the words right out of my mouth.

      The last time I had to take a test was 20 years ago– when I first got my license. The laws have changed drastically since then, yet the state makes no effort to make sure people know the current laws. They just renew, renew, renew (for 8 years between renewals), with no regard for changes in laws.

      I’ve been saying it for years: Why not make people take at least the written part of the test when they renew their licenses?? And make them renew every 1 or 2 years instead of 8.

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      • wsbob March 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

        “… I’ve been saying it for years: Why not make people take at least the written part of the test when they renew their licenses?? And make them renew every 1 or 2 years instead of 8.” Kt

        Getting Oregonians to approve of such an idea, and pay the additional costs it would represent; That would be a challenge.

        The ‘dog in lap’ bill is a funny one alright. Don’t see much chance of it gaining any traction.

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  • rider March 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    While I’m all for discouraging distracted driving, this is getting a little ridiculous. What’s next, tickets for people who drive while their children scream and throw fits in the back seat? That’s surely a distraction. I’m with Paul, how about we increase the requirements and testing to be allowed to drive. Let’s stop reacting to symptoms and start treating the problem, that is a good percentage of our population are not, and likely are incapable of, handling the responsibility of driving.

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    • q`Tzal March 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      Child in driver’s lap: that’s an animal right? Ticket! :)

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      • Perry Hunter March 3, 2011 at 6:55 pm

        Jail.

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  • Joe Rowe March 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Get back to work Salem. Cops currently have decent laws to cite drivers with dogs in their lap.

    We need Salem working on Single Payer Heathcare for Oregon. Solve our addiction to creating criminals out of people with drug problems. We need a treatment system not a prison system that is sucking our state budget dry.

    811.135 Careless driving; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of careless driving if the person drives any vehicle upon a highway or other premises described in this section in a manner that endangers or would be likely to endanger any person or property.

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    • Spiffy March 4, 2011 at 7:23 am

      thank you for pointing to the existing law that already covers this!

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  • BURR March 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I thought that was already illegal?

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  • 9watts March 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Sorry to go off-topic, but people were really ticketed for not putting a foot down?

    this seems pretty definitive, coming from Robert Pickett: http://tinyurl.com/foot-down-stop-sign

    But he does allow that “…if an officer happened to be watching you from a ways away, would putting your foot down be a good indication that you probably stopped completely? Yes.”

    Here’s another discussion of the matter:
    http://tinyurl.com/put-foot-down

    ticket reduced to $182 down from $242 for doing a trackstand.

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  • Spiffy March 4, 2011 at 7:05 am

    This is already covered under distracted driving laws, just like cell phones didn’t need their own laws. Stop passing redundant laws when the budget is already stressed.

    I hate when I see people with dogs in their lap while driving. It obviously hinders their ability to drive, such as decreasing their range of motion and having to keep the animal from sliding onto the floor during hard braking. Also, if you have airbags in a front end collision then your dog will be propelled at high speed into your body, possibly killing the small dog and causing injury to the driver.

    I require my dogs to stay in the back, either in the back seat or more often in the cargo area of the wagon. The seats keep them from flying forward in an accident, and good discipline keeps them from coming forward on their own. I won’t restrain my dog in the vehicle otherwise they have no means of escape in an emergency.

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    • Alan 1.0 March 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      Agreed about excessive legislation, but about securing pets in the car…it really is a smart thing to do. The “no means of escape” argument was used about seatbelts, too, and it is well-proven that the risk of injury and death is far greater without belts than with. Same with pets. Ejection from the vehicle, or secondary impact inside the vehicle, are far greater dangers than being trapped. Example from a friend’s experience: dog behind bars in back of minivan. Rear-ended at about 15-20mph. Dog ejected through rear window, suffered lacerations and two broken legs. It recovered. Or how about if you swerve and brake hard, and suddenly have a dog flying over your shoulders into your lap? How’s that affect your control of your car? And if you plow into something, your dog becomes a ballistic mass aimed for the front seat, bad for dog and humans. Think about a typical crash scene: emergency vehicles arriving, first responders milling around, other cars driving by. I really don’t want my dog unrestrained in that situation; it’s just more chances for him to be hurt.

      BTW, agreed with Kt, above, that one can make a good restraint system with common materials. But, even if you make it yourself, use a harness that (a) securely distributes load across the entire chest/shoulder area and (b) attaches to the restraint strap at a point between the shoulder blades. Don’t simply attach the restraint to a neck collar; that can cause injury in a crash.

      Crates or strong cages are also effective. Strap them down or otherwise fasten to the vehicle.

      Enough about dogs/pets, it’s off-topic, but please-please-please, secure them when traveling in a car, just as you would yourself or your child, for their safety, your safety, and general safety. (Don’t be part of an excuse to overlegislate. ;)

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    • El Biciclero March 7, 2011 at 11:16 am

      How would a dog open the door to escape in an emergency?

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  • Jeff P March 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Enforce laws already on the books.

    Wasn’t the Multnomah Blvd incident a dog in the back seat? So technically not an issue by this bill. Maybe we need another…..

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  • Paul Johnson March 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I’m surprised to learn Oregon actually allows this…Oklahoma has rather lax laws regarding motorists and that’s banned here (along with using headphones or bluetooth headsets while driving, or using a phone while driving, with the exception of calls to *55 (Oklahoma Highway Patrol)).

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  • rigormrtis March 7, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Hopefully this applies to people who run their dog while on their bike.

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    • Paul Johnson March 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Why does the Springer come immediately to mind?

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  • Dave March 8, 2011 at 8:15 am

    As the “parent” of two small dogs, it’s amazing to me that these idiots don’t realize that a deploying airbag will probably kill their dogs–this should be enough reason if they’re truly worthy of their canine companions!

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  • valkraider March 8, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    BikePortland. Where everyone is perfect and better than everyone else.

    Maybe if the dog had been in the front seat that woman would not have run over Reese.

    My small dog in my lap causes no more difference in my driving than my coffee or my child or my radio or my GPS. I still have to pay attention to driving.

    How many people have wrecked when their purse or backpack falls off the passenger seat to the floor and they go to fish it out? Lets outlaw bags in cars.

    How many people have wrecked when their big-gulp spills icy coke in their lap? Lets outlaw drinks in cars.

    How many people have wrecked when a bee flies in the car? Lets outlaw bees.

    Jebus – I agree with the above posters who say we need to make it harder to drive, period. Not pass laws outlawing everything in the world. We will never be able to keep up with all the “risks”. Instead we should just force people to be responsible.

    nanny nanny nanny nanny nanny

    We are becoming worse than a nanny state.

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