CONCORD, NH (AP) – New Hampshire is the only state that allows adults to drive without seat belts. Want to use your dog instead? Go for now.
While the state currently has no laws related to lap dogs, the legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal for someone to drive with “an animal of any size on their person.” The proposal is likely a longshot in the “Live Free or Die” state, but it sparks a lot of debate.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought this would be one of the more controversial bills of the session, but by God, here we are,” said sponsor, State Rep. Jennifer Rhodes.
Why the bill was proposed
Rhodes, a Republican from Winchester, drafted the bill after watching a young girl almost get hit by a car being driven by a man who was holding two small dogs with one arm and petting them with the other. When her anger subsided, she decided to take action.
“I had a unique opportunity to make a positive change, so I did it,” she said. “I thought it would be a no-brainer.”
But as word got around, angry emails began pouring in. One author, Rhodes declined to name, argued that a well-behaved lap dog is less distracting than an animal whimpering in the back seat.
“If I drive my sick dog (or cat or other pet) to the vet for medical attention or euthanasia, you can bet I might have (and had) that animal on my lap to do it.” last trip with them,” the person wrote. “Please stay out of people’s cars and let people have a little slice of happiness in the sanctity of their own vehicles.”
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Hawaii is the only state that specifically prohibits drivers from holding animals on their laps, Rhodes said, although such drivers could be charged under broader distracted-driving laws in several states. Rhode Island requires pets in vehicles to be restrained or under the physical control of someone other than the driver, while New Jersey requires pets to be crated or seat belted in moving vehicles. New Hampshire’s law, which fines violators $100, doesn’t go that far.
“If you want your dog to be in the back seat with his head out the window, great. You want your dog to sit in the passenger seat with you? That’s great. We’re just trying to say that the dog shouldn’t be with you at all,” Rhodes said.
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The bill has the support of Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera, who told the State House Transportation Committee last week that he’s seen drivers with dogs of all shapes and sizes on their laps.
“I’ve seen dogs running back and forth between the front seat and the back seat, looking out one window and looking out the other window. I’ve seen drivers holding a pet in their left hand and trying to look past the dog as they drive down the road,” he said. “It causes danger.”
Hopkinton’s Maria Doval said she will abide by the law if it’s changed, but for now she lets her dog ride on her lap to his grooming and vet appointments, plus weekly trips to doggy daycare. Pancho, a 7-pound Maltese Shih Tzu with extreme separation anxiety, hates the car but remains calm when Doval keeps a tight grip on his harness while she drives.
“He’s literally just looking out the window from my lap,” she said. “He’s not roaming free because I think that might be a distraction.”
While Rhodes said she’s basically been pushed back by people “who really don’t want to say what to do,” she said the biggest opposition comes from people who genuinely love their pets.
“They think I’m punishing them in some way, although I don’t consider that punishment in any way,” Rhodes said. “I consider it the safety of the pet.”