Dogs & Laws

NJ Bill Proposes: Seatbelt Your Dog or Face Animal Cruelty Charges

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a new bill which would require pet owners to restrain their un-crated pets or face a $20 ticket and a possible animal cruelty charge that may include a civil penalty of up to $1,000.

The proposal, started by Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D., Essex), has gained both support and ridicule. Typically, those who rarely travel with their pets or already restrain them are in support, while those that love the joy their dogs feel with their heads sticking out the window, drool flying and ears flapping, aren’t thrilled with the proposal.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported,

Spencer, who has a Teacup Pomeranian named AJ, isn’t without sympathy for canine passengers. “It’s iconic . . . dogs getting a breath of fresh air and drooling down the side of the car,” she acknowledged. “But something needs to be done about restraining [pets] so they don’t create distractions that could impact other motorists or pedestrians.”

Among those that oppose the bill are Assemblyman Jay Webber (R., Morris), who thinks an animal cruelty charge is excessive. “A dog lying on the backseat of a car or sticking his head out the window shouldn’t be an offense,” said Webber. “We’ve gotten along just fine for the past 100 years.”

While we’re big advocates for automobile safety, charging a dog owner with animal cruelty for allowing their dogs to ride unrestrained may be a bit over the top. Although, a seatbelt law for dogs isn’t an entirely bad idea…

Some states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Maine, currently have “distracted-driving laws” in place that can be used to charge drivers with pets on their laps or otherwise causing a driver to be distracted, but do not specifically call for the pets to be restrained.

Nationally, about 90% of dog owners regularly travel with their dog in the car. Only 2% of those dogs are properly restrained. You’d be hard-pressed to find any organization that doesn’t recommend that all dogs be restrained. Having a dog on your lap while driving is dangerous, not only for the driver and other motorists, but unrestrained dogs can be seriously injured, even killed, in the event of an accident.

Restraining your dog is just a plain ol’ good idea. But is it animal cruelty if you don’t? Weigh in with a comment!





  1. Laura

    Jan 26, 2013 at 4:08 am

    While dog safety is of utmost importance, you cannot restrain all dogs the same way. My dog is very large and lays down on the backseat when we travel. There is no way I could ‘belt’ him into the seat and that would be dangerous. His center of gravity needs to be low because he is VERY tall and thus in an accident he would be protected by airbags (rather than fly around the car or out the windows) when lying down. If he sat upright, it would be much more dangerous because his center of gravity would be high (therefore increasing the likelihood of injury) regardless of whether or not he was belted in. This belt idea doesn’t work in practice but I do think dogs should not be driven around in the back of open bed trucks. That is a recipe for disaster, as is the stupid idiot in Georgia who put his dog into his UHaul and killed his dog (due to heat exhaustion). Air circulation and common sense are key to helping pets survive the stupidity of their owners.

  2. Lesley Carpenter

    Nov 8, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I have a Mini Pin who comes everywhere with me in my car.
    I have an extra leash that is tied around the headrest of the car seat, when he gets into my car I simply clip it to his harness, I never have to worry about him falling off the seat or interfering with my driving. Instant doggie seat belt, quick easy and safe.

  3. janet

    Aug 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    If all other laws consider my pet “personal property” I don’t think an animal cruelty charge is fair. I think restraining a pet is a great idea, but if there is a law for distracted driving already out there why not just enforce it?

  4. billferr

    Aug 29, 2012 at 11:29 am

    my dogs just lay down in the back of a carpeted SUV
    if I stop short, they could slide to the back of the front seat, that’s it,
    I think if I tied them, that would be cruelty

    • Sue

      Oct 1, 2012 at 11:21 pm

      And how cruel would it be to them to go flying out of the front window when you are in an accident? Would you let your children “lie down” in the back seat??? Get a clue, Billy boy!

  5. billferr

    Aug 29, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I think it will do more harm then good

    • Sue

      Oct 1, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      Bill, pull your head out of the sand! How will it “harm” the dog to be restrained? And don’t give me that “emotional” harm garbage!

  6. Jill

    Aug 29, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I have mixed emotions about this one. While I agree that it is an important safety issue, I also wonder what happens if your dog breaks out of the restraint, during travel time. I have tried to restrain my dog and she found a way to get out of the restraint. Maybe it is my fault for not restraining her properly, even though I attempted to do it correctly.
    I think this law is possibly going a little too far, but not read enough to be fully educated about it.
    Just my humble opinion.

    • Sue

      Oct 1, 2012 at 11:18 pm

      Crate your dog in an airline style crate. Then strap down the crate in the car. That way your dog is safe in an accident, too. I saw a dog jump off a lady’s lap through the car window and onto the San Diego freeway. If not for another motorist who risked his life to run after that stupid lady’s dog, that dog would have been dead. If it had been rush hour traffic, people could have died in the crash she most certainly would have caused by giving her dog “freedom” in the car!

      Crate your dog while in a moving vehicle. It is safer for you, for the dog, and more importantly the innocent people you might possibly kill by being distracted by your dog!

      I’m among the 2% that ALWAYS crate my dogs while they are in any moving vehicle!

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