Skip to Content

Can Your Dog Sit on Your Lap While Driving?

dogs in car
Can Your Dog Sit on Your Lap While Driving?

Driving with a Dog in Your Car in California

We’ve all heard about the dangers of texting while driving, but little do we talk about the dangers of driving with a dog on your lap. At best, you could enjoy a fun and relaxing car ride with your beloved furry friend. At worst, however, you could get into a serious accident resulting in injuries or death. It may seem morbid, but driving with your pet on your lap could do you and your pet more harm than good.

To demonstrate how often people are distracted by their pets while driving, 29% of drivers report being distracted by their dog while driving, while 65% admit engaging in at least 1 potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog, a AAA and Kurgo survey revealed. According to the survey, these distracting activities include:

  • Petting their dog (52%)
  • Using hands or arms to restrict the dog’s movement or hold the dog in place when putting on brakes (23%)
  • Using hands/arms to keep the dog from climbing from the backseat to the front seat (19%)
  • Reaching into the backseat to interact with the dog (18%)
  • Allowing the dog to sit in your lap or holding the dog while driving (17%)
  • Giving food or treats to the dog (13%)
  • Playing with the dog (4%)
  • Taking a photo of the dog (3%)

Distracted Driving Laws in California

Contrary to popular belief, distracted driving does not only refer to texting while driving. The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) defines “distracted driving” as anything that takes your eyes or mind off the road, or hands off the steering wheel. The OTS warns that other serious driver distractions such as eating, grooming, reading, reaching for objects on the floor, changing clothes, or talking with passengers are just as dangerous and can result in a “reckless driving” or “speed unsafe for conditions” ticket. Driving with a pet on your lap is no exception.

Although the worst-case scenario of driving with your pet on your lap is a fatal car wreck, another dreadful outcome is a traffic ticket. But not just a mere speeding ticket ― a reckless driving ticket.

In California, a person is guilty of reckless driving if they drive in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of people or property on a highway or offstreet parking facility. A conviction for reckless driving in California is punishable by up to 90 days in prison and/or $145 to $1,000 fines. Not to mention, you may get points added to your record. If you have accumulated enough points from prior traffic offenses, your license could get suspended.

What are the penalties for speeding unsafely for road conditions? As we discussed before, the OTS warns drivers who have their pets on their laps that the police could give that a “speed for unsafe conditions” ticket. This traffic offense occurs when a person drives at an unreasonable speed or disregards weather, visibility, traffic, and other road conditions and endangers the safety of people or property as a result.

If you’re found guilty, you could pay hundreds of dollars in fines, go to traffic school, and get points assessed to your driving record, which may result in license suspension.

Dog Seat Belt Laws in CA

California does not prohibit drivers from having pets on their laps. The state does, however, have laws concerning the transportation of pets in certain vehicles. Under Cal. Vehicle Code § 23117, any animal that is transported in the back of a vehicle “in a space intended for any load” (like a pickup truck) on the highways must be either:

  • cross tethered to the vehicle; or
  • protected by a secured container or cage to prevent the animal from falling, jumping, or being thrown from the vehicle.

A violation is punishable by a $50 to $100 fine for the first offense and $75 to $200 for a subsequent offense that occurs within one year of the prior infraction. This doesn’t apply to livestock or dogs being transporting for ranching or farming purposes. The animal doesn’t have to be restrained if it’s in an enclosed space or a vehicle with side and tail racks at least 45 inches high.

Tips for Driving Safely with Your Dog

With all these factors in mind, you may want to think twice before taking your pet on the road with you, particularly, having it on your lap while driving. Doing so not only poses a threat to you, your pet, and your passengers, but also other drivers on the roads. You could get slapped with several traffic tickets and even a lawsuit if circumstances call for it. To best avoid these serious outcomes, consider the following tips:

  • Safely secure your pet while driving, as failing to do so can eject passengers and pets from the vehicle in a sudden stop or crash, resulting in injuries or death.
  • Restrain dogs with a kennel or caged section of the vehicle to prevent them from accessing the driver’s seat.
  • Secure cats in a crate, cage, or pet car seat that is restrained with a seat belt. Don’t let a cat roam freely in the vehicle, or else it may get tangled around the driver’s feet.
  • Don’t allow a pet to ride in a car with its head out the window because an object could strike their head, resulting in injuries or death, and dirt particles could get into their eyes, throat, ears, and nose.
  • Stop every couple of hours to let your pet have a break.
  • Put the pet on a leash before getting out of the car so it doesn’t run away.
  • Don’t stop on the freeway unless it’s an emergency, especially when driving with your pet. In non-emergencies, stop at rest areas, gas stations, or other safe areas.

Despite following these tips, the police could still pull you over. When they see your dog in the vehicle, the officer may issue several citations, including speeding and reckless driving. You could even get accused of animal cruelty. To help prevent a bad situation from turning worse, contact our traffic ticket lawyer at (510) 907-6600 to learn how we can fight for you!