Having little Fluffy or Tinkerbell on your lap while you drive might soon be a crime.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to send legislation to the assembly floor that aims to make it illegal for drivers to hold any animal on their lap while driving.
State Representative Bill Maze (R-Visalia) first proposed the bill to the Transportation Committee in February. The committee passed it on to appropriations earlier this month to approve the creation of a new $35 traffic fine.
“[Maze] was prompted to author the bill by his frustration with seeing so many people drive with animals in their lap,” said Laurie Paredes, Maze’s legislative director.
AB 2233 specifically prohibits drivers from “holding a live animal in his or her arm or arms, or upon his or her lap.” This includes all dogs, cats, birds and rodents no matter how small or docile.
While the official statistics on accidents related to animal distractions are unknown, the legislative analyst points to a recent American Automobile Association study which ranked pets and loose objects as the third worst in-car distraction – surpassing cell phones, eating and drinking.
“You can turn [a cell phone] off,” Paredes said. “But an animal is a live being that could become entangled in the steering wheel or foot well.”
When the bill passed the Transportation Committee the sole nay vote came from State Representative Martin Garrick (R-Carlsbad).
Garrick owns and trains hunting dogs and felt strongly that he could best decide where they should sit the car, said Mike Zimmerman, Garrick’s chief of staff.
“We understand the intention of the bill – trying to protect drivers,” Zimmerman said. “But there is other legislation about driver distraction, and [Garrick] felt this was unnecessary.”
Although the bill prohibits drivers from holding their pets, it doesn’t specify how they should be restrained. The legislative analyst report mentions pet seatbelts – a harness worn around the animal’s chest – as an option for restraining your pet.
“[Pet seatbelts] aren’t too popular,” said Jessica Kelly, an employee at the Petco in Davis. “I don’t use one. Even if they pass the law, I don’t think I would use one.”
Davis resident and Petco customer Sonia Huston said ownersshould determine where an animal rides in the car because they know their pet best.
“I had a long drive when I moved and my cat is like my baby,” she said. “Are you going to put your baby in a cage? I know he’ll just sit on my lap.”
The bill is expected to be heard on the assembly floor sometime next week.
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.