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State legislators spar over bill that would restrain pets in cars

For some people, it might appropriately be called a pet peeve, namely, seeing other vehicles flash by with noticeably unrestrained animals -- usually dogs -- hanging halfway out windows, jumping over seats or clearly engaging the attention of their owners while those persons are driving.

For others, pets in cars are much ado about nothing and certainly not a matter worthy of being elevated to a serious discussion about driving safety, distractions and auto accidents.

Whatever the view, the subject does regularly surface when talk turns to motoring distractions and car accidents, with unrestrained pets often being cited as risks that can easily disengage a motorist from the immediate task at hand.

A loose dog in the car, say some critics of the practice, can be just as much -- or more -- of a distraction as can be a cell phone, a GPS tracking device, the sandwich a driver is trying to eat, the makeup a motorist is applying or a host of other danger-enhancing activities and devices.

That is the way that New Jersey Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer sees it. Spencer has drafted a bill that, if enacted into law, will require all drivers within the state to use a device -- whether a belt, harness, tether or other apparatus -- that will restrict an on-board animal's movement. Failure to use such a device would bring a $20 fine and, potentially, a charge of animal cruelty.

"Let's just harness some common sense rather than a new regulation that would function mainly to harass" responds Jay Webber, another state legislator. Webber says that the would-be law is a misguided overreach.

The ASPCA views the legislation differently and actively supports the bill.

In a study carried out last year by AAA, nearly 30 percent of survey respondents admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving on one or more occasions.

Source: The Seattle Times, "N.J. lawmaker wants pets buckled up," Richard Simon, Aug. 21, 2012

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