March 1, 2011

The Oregon State Senator introduced the measure not quite as an afterthought, but more as an “also thought.” The lawmaker, who comes from Portland, was working on distracted driving proposals in general when she realized that cell phones weren’t the only culprits. Car accidents are caused by all sorts of distractions, and whatever can be eliminated should be. If Senate Bill 160 becomes law, it will be illegal in Oregon to drive with an animal in your lap.

An accident in her district confirmed her commitment to the bill. Shortly after the bill’s introduction, a woman driving along Multnomah Boulevard hit a cyclist and crashed into a house. Both the cyclist and the driver were okay. The driver had been distracted by her passenger: her dog.

The bill was the subject of a Senate Business Committee meeting last week. Organizations that testified in support included the AAA and the Oregon Humane Society. No one testified in opposition. The next step is to get a work session to move the measure to the Senate Chamber. If that doesn’t happen before April 21, the bill will die.

The issue of distracted driving has loomed large in many states this year. The focus on pets is much less common, in spite of estimates that tens of thousands of accidents are caused every year by unrestrained animals. And it’s been a problem for years: The driver who struck author Stephen King with his car in 1999 claimed he was distracted by his dog.

In Oregon, though, the problem may be underreported. The Department of Transportation said that only one fatal crash in the past five years cited “animal or insect inside the vehicle” as a contributing factor. But to be counted, a driver would first have to admit that the wreck was caused by his pet. National safety activists say that underreporting is likely.

State legislatures don’t seem to be convinced. Hawaii is the only state that specifically prohibits a person from driving with a pet on his or her lap.

The offense would be a Class D traffic violation. Drivers caught with an obstructing animal would have to pay a $90 fine.


KOIN.com, “Oregon lawmakers consider bill to ban lap dogs in cars,” Kacey Montoya, 03/15/11

Greenbay Press Gazette, “Keep pups restrained while driving, experts say,” Sue Manning, 02/27/11


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