Dangers of Driving With A Dog In Your Lap

Keep your dog in the back of the car when you are driving! Most importantly, keep a small dog off your lap whether you are the driver or the front seat passenger. I have been advocating this safety measure for years, beginning with advice in The Dog Bible and continuing on the air on my radio shows. I have explained that a dog in the front of a car will become a projectile in the case of even a minor crash, with a little dog in jeopardy of being thrown against the dashboard, smashed against the windshield. A small dog will even be propelled out the window if held in someone’s lap with the window down — because the impact will cause them to let go and depending on where the vehicle is hit, the force will send the dog flying out to its death. I’ve explained that a dog on your lap in the front seat in the event of a front-end collision runs the risk of devastating injury if he is hit by the airbag, especially in the tight space on a driver’s lap when the bag comes out of the steering wheel.

Now, finally, someone with common sense in Connecticut is attempting to make this a law.

The Connecticut Post recently reported that the “Connecticut General Assembly is considering a bill that would outlaw drivers from holding their pets on their laps and subject violators to the same fines for talking on a cellphone and texting behind the wheel, as well as for other forms of distracted driving. The lap dog is competing with the iPhone for the attention of drivers, according to the bill’s supporters, who say restrictions are needed not just for the protection of drivers and pedestrians, but for the pets themselves.”

I have always hoped that people would use common sense and perceive the logic that a dog in the lap is a distraction to the driver and can cause an accident, as much as it is dangerous for the dog. I only hope more states will follow suit and demand that people put their pet’s ultimate safety ahead of continuing a thoughtless bad habit on their part, and pose less risk to other drivers at the same time. Connecticut deserves kudos for considering this. However, in the same breath I remind myself that this same state does not require safety helmets for motorcycle riders. You can see them everywhere, astride their motorcycles helmet-less, displaying their wanton disregard for self-preservation by tooling the parkways at high speeds with their hair (often bald on top with a grey pony tail) slicked back in the wind.

I’m sad to say that my sister and brother-in-law, who live in Connecticut, encourage their small Brussels Griffons, Lulu and Sprout, to routinely climb into the front seat and snuggle up on the lap of whomever is in the front, sometimes one dog per lap of the couple. I get worked up with frustration about my inability to convince them to keep their dogs in the back — either with a barrier, a harness attached to the rear seat belts, or a crate or carrier. And then I remind myself that one reason my brother-in-law really loves Connecticut is that he is a motorcycle enthusiast himself! He is one of the aging daredevils who motorcycle around without a helmet — which does make it that much less likely that he will perceive there is a risk to having dogs on his lap behind the wheel.

Whether or not this idea gets passed into law in Connecticut or any other state, please take my common sense advice and forbid your dog of any size to stand between the front seats or come into the front, not even for a five minute car ride. As a reward for respecting the “dogs in the back” rule, if your dog is loose in the back you can toss a nice treat behind you every so often to reinforce the experience of being in the back as a good thing. If there’s a barrier you can reach through, you can offer a treat periodically by hand. I also keep a nice big buffalo knuckle bone in the far back of my SUV so that Maisie can stretch out and do some good gnawing on the bone while we travel safely.

Tracie Hotchner
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photo credit: dog in a car © 632imagine