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Ask a Trooper: Pets in vehicles

August 5, 2015
Trooper Vince Kurtz , Estherville News

Q: The other day I was following a vehicle where there was a dog sitting on the driver's lap. Later, that dog was moving back and forth on the front seat and into the back seat. This appeared to be an unsafe situation for both the driver and any other nearby vehicles since the driver would most certainly be distracted. Is this a traffic violation of some sort?

A: This issue is one that can be addressed from many angles. While the safety of an unrestrained pet will cause many to cringe in this scenario, the more important issue is the safety of the driver and other motorists that could be impacted.

An unrestrained pet moving throughout a moving vehicle does present a distraction to the driver. This distraction could be a contributing factor in the event of a crash. The latest update to the Iowa crash report form now includes a section specifically listing 'unrestrained animal' as a contributing factor in a crash.

Unfortunately, this in and of itself does not qualify as a violation under the current distracted driving laws in Iowa. Iowa's law is fairly limited in scope. It addresses the issues of talking on the phone, texting, and the use of other electronic entertainment devices. It goes no further than this. There are so many other distractions that can lead to crashes eating, drinking, conversations, makeup, shaving, reading a map, etc. It would be impossible to outlaw them all.

Perhaps a more logical approach would be to look at an outcome based approach when dealing with the distractions issue. If a given activity is causing a motorist to drive poorly as exhibited by weaving, crossing the centerline, etc., that violation could be addressed as it falls under a more broad code section relating to distractions. The issue of pets causing a distraction could fall into this category.

Back to the issue at hand. Iowa code section 321.363 would be the closest regulation on the books that could be applied. It states:

1. No person shall drive a vehicle when it is so loaded, or when there are in the front seat such number of persons, exceeding three, as to obstruct the view of the driver to the front or sides of the vehicle or as to interfere with the driver's control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.

As you can see, this section was not meant to deal directly with the problem of unrestrained pets. It could be applicable if you consider pets to be a type of cargo that is 'so loaded' in a vehicle.

Regardless of the semantics, motorists need to take personal responsibility for their driving behavior when it comes to distractions, legal or otherwise. It is also a great reminder for all motorists to drive defensively considering the multitude of distractions that are impacting the vehicle you are meeting.

For the safety of others and your pet, take the time to properly restrain your 4 legged friends. It's a solution we can all agree on.

 
 
 

 

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