Pet-wise, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t seem to get it right. Even before he threatened to cut back on the time that animals will be held in shelters before they’re killed, he vetoed a law (derided by opponents as the “Paris Hilton Bill”) that would have imposed a fine for driving with a dog in your lap.

Inspiration for a dog safety law?
Inspiration for a dog safety law?

Rule #2. Driving with an unrestrained dog in your car is dumb, dangerous, and potentially expensive.

To those who rail against the nanny state and argue that they don’t want to restrict their dogs’ freedom, I ask, “Would you want your pup to enjoy the freedom of going through the windshield?” An unrestrained dog can become a projectile if you have to stop short.

Untethered dogs pose not only safety issues but legal and economic ones. Many states have passed variations of the law in Washington, where it’s a misdemeanor to “willfully transport or confine…any domestic animal… in a manner, posture or confinement that will jeopardize the safety of the animal or the public.” (Some laws specify that this includes having a dog in the back of a pickup truck; see June 9 post.) Accordingly, if your unsecured dog causes an accident, your insurance is rendered invalid under many policies. And even if the accident is the other driver’s fault, your vet bills won’t be paid if your dog wasn’t properly restrained.

And then there’s the potential for unwelcome notoriety. You never know who you’ll hit if your dog distracts you to the point of causing an  accident. Case in point: While walking along the side of the road in 1999, author Stephen King was struck by a minivan. Driver Bryan Smith claimed he had been distracted by his Rottweiler, Bullet, who was rooting around in the vehicle, trying to raid the food cooler. Smith, who died the following year of a drug overdose ruled accidental,  subsequently turned up as a character in King’s Dark Tower series.

Shameless self-promotion alert: This information was adapted from Chapter 8 of AM I BORING MY DOG? And 99 other things every dog wishes you knew, forthcoming from Alpha/Penguin in September.

Coming next:  The best way to restrain your dog.

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