Officials: Pets in driver’s seat a no-no

TUPELO – Wilma Roberts had to run into a ditch to avoid being hit by an oncoming motorist head-on.
“Luckily the lady pulled over to check on me,” remembered Roberts of the early morning accident. “I was mad, but felt better to see her stop.”
But this wasn’t a typical accident.
“Then she told me her dog had been riding in her lap and had gotten on the steering wheel and I was mad, scared and just worried,” Roberts said. “There has to be a law against that. That’s just dangerous.”
Roberts said that since her accident this past weekend, she’s noticed more and more people riding with dogs in their laps and feels it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed because of it.
Tupelo Police Maj. Jackie Clayton said he doesn’t see people riding with pets in their laps all that often.
“I strongly suggest people don’t ride with their pets in their laps,” Clayton said. “Anything that takes attention away from driving should not be done whether its texting, talking on a cell phone or tending to a pet. There is a lot that can go wrong in that situation. The animal can jump on the steering wheel or try to jump out of the window. If that happens your concentration will be on saving the animal and not on the road.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, driver distraction contributes to 20 to 30 percent of all motor vehicle crashes, about 1.2 million per year. In a recent AAA study, pets and loose objects were rated as being the third worst driver distraction (first being radio and second being children).
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said he’s seen several accidents involving people driving with pets.
“I have definitely seen accidents where in vehicles pets were to blame,” said Johnson. “That’s why they have carriers for animals. They don’t have to be your lap to cause problems. Just having a pet running around in the car can be a danger to the driver, the pet and other motorists. That animal is no different than a child in your lap. You would not ride down the road with a baby in your lap so why would you with a pet.”
Debbie Hood, director of the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, said having a pet in your lap while driving is a danger for everyone, including the pet. Pets can be injured by air bags or thrown through the windshield during an accident.
Even though there is no legislation pertaining to pets in vehicles, Johnson said if more accidents are being reported because of in vehicle pets, he can see some laws written to prohibit it.
Some states have laws saying dogs must have seat belts while riding in vehicles.
Roberts, a pet owner herself, said she has nothing against a person riding with their pets in the car but feels riding with them in your lap is a disaster waiting to happen.
“All I say is that had I not ran in that ditch I would have been seriously hurt,” she said. “And you can’t justify wanting to ride with your pet on your lap if someone dies from it.”

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal