State Officials Urge Motorists To Buckle Up Their Furry Passengers

LEONIA – A cadre of cute canines stood tall today with motor vehicle officials and state Humane Law Enforcement Officers in urging motorists to not let their driving habits “go to the dogs” by properly restraining their pets in moving cars or face stiff fines, penalties and danger.

Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez and Superintendent of the NJ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) Col. Frank Rizzo chose to deliver this important safety message at the Overpeck County Park Dog Run right after the unofficial start of summer because more people take to the roads during the warmer months and often times take their family pet with them.

“During the summer months, we see increased traffic on the state’s roads, which means drivers need to be even more vigilant and pay extra close attention to the road,” said Martinez. “Anything that can instantly take a driver’s eyes and mind off the road is a potentially lethal distraction.”

Under N.J.S.A. 4:22-18, NJSPCA officers can pull over any driver they feel is improperly transporting an animal. Not only can a ticket be issued with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 for each offense, but the driver can also be charged with a disorderly person’s offense under the state’s animal cruelty statutes.

Col. Rizzo said the NJSPCA would like to see every animal contained or restricted from moving around freely in a car and if that is not possible, at least harnessed or leashed using any number of safety products on the market.

“You wouldn’t put your child in the car unrestrained so you shouldn’t put your pet in the car unrestrained either,” said Col. Rizzo. “What people come to realize only too late is that animals act like flying missiles in an impact and can not only hurt themselves but hurt their human family members too.”

During the summer months in particular, the NJSPCA officers will be checking for vehicles traveling to and from the shore areas to look for animals hanging out of windows or unleashed dogs traveling in the open back of pick-up trucks.

While most often these offenses are associated with dogs, Col. Rizzo said his group of officers has seen other types of animals in danger as well.

“Of course a dog traveling on a driver’s lap is bad but so are dogs hanging their heads out of windows, birds traveling on a driver’s shoulder or cats resting on a dashboard, ” Rizzo added.

Martinez cited a 2010 survey by AAA that found that driving with a dog on your lap is far more common and distracting than first thought. According to the survey, 20 percent of those asked admitted to letting their dog sit on their lap while they drove. A staggering 31 percent said they were truly distracted by their dog while driving no matter where the dog was in the car.

Martinez noted that more than 5,400 Americans die each year in car accidents caused by distracted driving. “Some were trying to eat something between meetings while others were applying makeup before getting to their offices. But most of these folks were talking or texting on their cell phones.”

Motorists traveling on New Jersey’s roads and highways who see an animal in danger are encouraged to call the SPCA at 1-800-582-5979.

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