Animal experts agree that new legislation banning dogs in laps while driving is a step in the right direction, but laws aren't enough to ensure everyone stays safe on the road. Lindsey Wolko, the founder of the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety, isn't opposed to the law or others like it, but she thinks there are better approaches. Via email, Wolko explains that she thinks it's more important to educate pet parents so they make the right choices than expect them to do the bare minimum simply to avoid getting a ticket.
"I've been studying pet travel for well over a decade and personally feel legislation is not a good tool to curb these problems," Wolko says. "I believe that education and awareness is a critical tool to help pet owners understand that certain behaviors are more risky than others."
"I'm in favor of pets being safely, comfortably restrained for their own protection, as well as for the safety of the driver, passengers and other motorists," Melanie Monteiro, another pet safety expert, says via email. According to Monteiro, there are a lot of ways beyond just distractions that unrestrained dogs can be hazards. For instance, Monteiro says:
- Pets riding in a driver's lap can accidentally get between the driver's feet and the pedals.
- If there's an accident or the driver has to slam on the brakes, the dog can be crushed by the steering wheel, or worse, go through the windshield, or become a deadly projectile and injure the driver or passengers.
- If the airbags deploy, the force (approximately 200 mph) can seriously harm or kill a pet.
- In the aftermath of an accident, some dogs may become panicked and try to attack first responders; unrestrained pets can also escape, get hit by a car, or bolt and become lost.
The safest way to take your pet along in the car, Monteiro says, is in a carrier, travel harness or kennel that's crash-tested and approved by the Center for Pet Safety. Monteiro and Wolko both say it's ultimately up to drivers to research and use the proper restraints when they have a dog in the car. Whether or not these restraints — or Michigan's driving with a dog in the lap — will become law is anyone's guess. But one thing is likely: Even if your state does not strictly prohibit you from driving with a dog in your lap, if he's causing you to drive dangerously, the police will probably find some way to cite you.