Drive with pet on your lap, risk getting ticketed

cute-dog-on-driver-lap.jpgFate provided my blog topic for today. Served it up on a silver platter.

Driving home from work last night, a white Acura merged onto the freeway ahead of me. Although the right lane was empty, he slid clear over into the far left lane, which I occupied because I'd just passed a car. He then set a 54-mph pace on the 60-mph freeway.

Frustration grew when I clearly saw him lift a hand-held smartphone, silhouetted against his windshield. I moved to the right and passed him. Glancing through his side window, I confirmed that his eyes were indeed on his phone, not the road.​

I also saw something else, on his lap. A dog. One of those little ankle-biter breeds.

Farther down the freeway ​I looked in my rear-view mirror to see a string of cars stuck behind the Acura.

I knew I had to blog about this when I spotted an article in today's Medford Mail Tribune, where a reader asked if it's legal for drivers to have dogs on their laps​. The short answer: no. Oregon has no law about dogs specifically. But there soon might be.

As the Mail Tribune reports, Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, has introduced legislation reading, "A person commits the offense of driving with a dog in the driver's lap if the person is operating a motor vehicle on a highway or on premises open to the public and a dog is in the person's lap." It would be a traffic violation with a maximum fine of $250.
cop writing ticketEven if the bill fails, Oregon police can ticket you under the existing ORS 815.270, "Operating vehicle that is loaded or equipped to obstruct driver." A dog on the lap qualifies as "Interferes with control of the driving mechanism" and "Prevents the free, unhampered operation of the vehicle by the driver." The fine is $160.

Washington doesn't have a law that specifically prohibits pets on a driver's lap. But Washington does have a negligent driving law, RCW 46.61.525, that penalizes "failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances." That will set you back $250.

Of course, that assumes a reasonably careful driver would not drive with a pet on his or her lap.

Do I assume too much?

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