LUMBERTON — Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, wants pet owners to show affection toward Fido, but not when driving a car.
That was the inspiration behind a bill to make it illegal for a motorist to drive with an animal in his or her lap, he said.
“I don’t have a problem with pets,” Pierce said. “I want people to love their pets. But I want the highways to be safer.”
Pierce is the primary sponsor of House Bill 73, which was introduced Wednesday in the N.C. House of Representatives. It was given first-reading approval by the House that day and referred to House Judiciary Committee II. If approved by that committee — the House has three judiciary committees — it will be referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which must approve the bill before being sent back to the House chamber for debate.
He introduced the bill because constituents raised the issue, the Democratic representative of District 48 said. The people with whom he spoke said people driving with animals in their laps were at a higher risks of people involved in traffic accidents because the animals can be a distraction or reduce reaction time during a critical moment.
“My constituents sent me up here to represent them and make sure their concerns are discussed,” Pierce said. “We filed the bill and if it is successful, great. If it’s not, then at least we tried.”
The bill’s co-sponsor is Rep. Andy Dublin, a Republican from Charlotte.
The bill reads in part, “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle on a public street, highway, or public vehicular area while holding a live animal in the person’s lap.”
The bill calls for a $100 fine for driving while an animal is in the driver’s lap. No points would be deducted from the driver’s license and no insurance surcharges would be accessed. Should a traffic accident occur while a driver is driving with an animal in his or her lap, violation would not make the driver negligent in any action for recovery of damages sustained in the accident.
Pierce rejects any argument that the bill is an expansion of the “nanny state.” His counter argument is “highway safety. It’s a safety issue.”
The highways are crowded and weren’t designed with people driving while holding pets in mind, he said. There already are laws addressing driving while distracted, particularly using a cell phone while driving.
“Drivers need to have their focus on the road, and the animal would be a distraction,” Pierce said.
There are no statistics to support Pierce’s bill,” said Tiffany Wright, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas. But AAA does support the bill.
“It’s really a question of safety,” Wright said.
When in a moving vehicle animals should not be in the front seat or in the driver’s lap, she said. They should be in the back seat in a harness to keep the animals safer and prevent the animals from getting into the front seat and distracting the driver. In an accident, an animal can become a projectile that endangers passengers.
“We’re not trying to be anti-pet,” Wright said.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974.