Nov. 22 – Animals are banned from riding on a motorist’s lap, a move brought by NH Rep Jennifer Rhodes.
The Republican, from Winchester, said she was in her neighborhood on Parker Street over the summer when she saw a teenage girl crash her scooter and fall off the pavement into the street as a car approached.
The man behind the wheel couldn’t swerve because he was steering the vehicle with one arm that was also holding two small dogs, according to Rhodes, who said he was petting the dogs with his other arm. Luckily, she said, the girl’s grandmother pulled the child off the street just in time.
“I couldn’t believe it and said, ‘This is it,'” Rhodes recalled Monday.
She began researching the issue and found that New Hampshire does not have a specific law prohibiting an animal from sitting on a person while driving, although Hawaii has such a restriction.
“Obviously I did my homework before submitting this. I contacted the lawyers. I reached out to our support staff at the statehouse,” she said. “The goal would be to add this to the Distracted Driving Act.”
Rhodes won a second term on November 8th.
The NH Office of Legislative Services is putting Rhodes’ proposal into a bill for consideration after lawmakers reconvene in January.
Rhodes said her research showed that New Hampshire’s only dog and vehicle law is a provision that generally bans unsecured dogs from the back of a pickup truck.
Now that she’s focused on the subject, she says she often sees people driving with a dog on their lap.
“I see it every day now because I pay attention to it now,” she said. “When I was struggling at Winchester Transfer Station, I counted three cars in an hour that came in with either dogs in the driver’s arms or on their laps.”
She also pointed out other potential problems with unsecured dogs in a vehicle when an accident occurs.
“If that airbag inflates and there’s a dog on your lap, it’s going to kill the dog,” she said. “If it’s on the passenger side, it could throw the dog out of the car.”
Keene Police Chief Steven Stewart said that even without a new law, he could stop someone for driving with a dog on their lap.
“I think it depends on how big the dog is and if he’s showing any signs of interfering with the operation of the vehicle,” he said. “It would be case by case.”
AAA Northern New England has an online pet-driving fact sheet that recommends restraining the pet in the back seat “to avoid distractions and to protect the pet and other passengers in the event of a collision.
“Restraint options include belts and boxes that can be buckled.”
Daniel Goodman, a spokesman for the organization, said a 2011 survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that when driving with a dog, more than half of respondents said they had pet it, and 17 percent had held the dog or allowed to sit on her lap.
Rhodes said she called other New Hampshire officials to see if they would be willing to sponsor a bill.
“Two of them told me they can’t co-sponsor the bill because they’re driving with a dog on their lap,” she said.
Rick Green can be reached at [email protected] or 603-355-8567.