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Ask a Trooper: Can I Drive With My Dog in My Lap?

Washington State Patrol District 1 spokesperson and recruiter Guy Gill answers your questions about the rules of the road.

Q: Can I drive with my dog in my lap?

A: The dog can be inside the vehicle with you, as long as you are not distracted. If you allow your dog to be free in the cab and that dog interferes with handling your vehicle, we have a problem.

If you’re pulled over for leaving the lane of travel or erratic driving, you could be subject to a negligent driving ticket, which is $525.

I’d say that driving with a dog in your lap is not a good idea.

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Trooper Guy Gill is the Washington State Patrol recruiter and spokesman for District 1, covering Pierce and Thurston counties. Follow him at @wspd1pio on Twitter. 

What have you always wanted to ask a state patrol officer? Tell us in the comments. 

Carla Ritchie January 23, 2013 at 09:08 PM
I agree, and Imy dogs ride in the car crated for their safety, or on rare occasions, throwing caution to the wind, free in the cabin, but they know to get in and lie down, end of story - or they go into the crate before we leave. Thank you for addressing this issue.
Patti Lundgren January 23, 2013 at 09:19 PM
There are a couple of other reasons not to drive with a dog (or other pet) in your lap. If you're in an accident, and the airbag deploys, your dog can be crushed against you, causing injury to you (more than the airbag does), and injury or death to your dog. Additionally, a loose pet in the vehicle becomes an airborne object in the case of a high speed crash. Best bets? A harness that attaches to a seat belt in the backseat, or a carrier that is attached to the seat belt (the pet is then harnessed also). If you want to strap your dog into the front passenger seat, disable the airbag for that side. And, lest I sound too preachy, when I was younger, I often let my cat or my dog ride on my lap. Ah, the good old days, before we knew better, eh? :)
Janis Breen January 23, 2013 at 09:51 PM
I think the trooper should have said that, just as we are required by law to wear a seatbelt, any animal in a car should be in a crate or special seatbelt made for that animal. Imagine that animal flying around the car in an accident, or worse, getting lose and running off, never to be seen again. I notice that lady in the picture is not wearing a seatbelt in addition to having that dog on her shoulder!
Lauren Padgett (Editor) January 23, 2013 at 09:57 PM
I think that's a good idea, Janice, but kind of hard to do depending on the dog. Some are really well behaved and love their trips around town in the backseat or on the passenger side. Funny note about that photo... we have another in our system of a woman driving with a dog on her shoulder while talking on her cell phone. I figured it was too outrageous to share here, but missed the seatbelt in this one. Good eye!
steve swortz January 23, 2013 at 09:59 PM
Saw a lady the other day with a dog in her lap,talking on her cell and drinking coffee all at the same time sitting right next to a LPD patrol car. She should have been ticketed.
Gargoylepetite January 24, 2013 at 12:05 AM
I drive an Explorer and my dog used to be loose in the back. One day we were hit from the rear side and by the time we had stopped, my dog was in the front seat. Very scary. Now he has a seatbelt harness or barrier cage for the back. Keeping your pet safe is not a detriment to the love of the ride
Casey Clark January 24, 2013 at 02:39 PM
I believe that pets should not be allowed to ride in the front seat at all, talk about a distraction....just as much as talking on a cell phone...I think this warrants a ticket. Why is it that pets have to go everywhere with people? When I was young our pets stayed at home when we went somewhere. When did this change?
Lance Orloff January 24, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Since you asked us if we have any other questions... 1. What percent of speeders are caught and at what speed? 2. How often do people with road rage (primarily against me because I do drive the speed limit) get away with it? I realize that none of the questions will be answered directly if at all. The real question is do we recognize that enforcement of the law on a sporatic and low percent basis is doing very little to stop the vast numbers of people who still break the law and therefore, is less of an enforcement issue and more of a skimming money off of stupid people? I understand that there are people who will obey the law because it is right. I do this and primarily because I want my children to live through childhood. I understand that there are people who obey because they have this unreasonable fear of getting caught (what, maybe 3.4% of the time?). It is not these people who currently plague the freeways and surface streets. It is the rest of them, (well over half and I could count next time I am on the roads so as to have actual statistics but, really, does anyone "with eyes to see and ears to hear" think otherwise?) that still cause the problems with impunity and lead to such horrible events as the recent, unrelated except in time, two separate freeway shootings in retaliation for some unknown slight. Truly, truly, truly, I say to thee, the problem has an alpha and an omega. Stop the alpha.
Tony Bussert January 24, 2013 at 03:28 PM
Some of you have probably seen me driving around with my bullmastiff Manny in my truck around town. I take him places with me, because like people dogs need mental stimulation. Variety is the spice of life. I like to take him with me places mostly so he can get a different place to go on a walk. Also the more dogs are socialzed around people and other animals the better behaved they tend to be. One final thing I do it for the breed. Bullmastiff's aren't all that common for people to see and they are large dogs and can seem intimidating until you meet them. For the most part they are just big lazy lugs that want to be around people.
Lila M. A. Baer January 24, 2013 at 04:26 PM
I noticed in the picture also that the little dog has a leash on but what happens if the owner (driver) lets go of the leash and the dog goes flying out the window. I sometimes see a lady driving a VW "bug" and her little dog is standing on the dash in the windshield of her car. I see her on Fremont Avenue North in the Shoreline area.
Edward A. January 24, 2013 at 05:07 PM
This probably doesn't apply to road rage, but I think the reason people continually hover at the edge of safety can be neatly explained by the principle of "illusory superiority," or, as my dad used to put it: "Nine out of ten drivers think they are better drivers than nine out of ten drivers."
Lauren Padgett (Editor) January 24, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Nice quote Edward! Very true.
Donna Blinn January 24, 2013 at 11:05 PM
My question for the officer is about right turn red arrows and right turn green arrows. Does the right turn red arrow mean you cannot turn right after stopping on a corner where you would normally be allowed to make a right turn when the light is red? I assume the green right turn arrow means you can proceed to the right without stopping, but my mother in law thinks you have to stop before proceeding around the corner on a green arrow, so maybe the answer isn't so straight forward. I read through the driving rules book for Washington state--I could find no reference to red or green right turn arrows.
Joy Pardo January 25, 2013 at 12:28 AM
When the carpool lane is on the left, should it be treated like a passing lane, or can we drive like the buses do, at the speed limit, and expect the speedsters to pass on the right? Or should we move right if someone is tailing in the carpool lane?
AC January 25, 2013 at 07:43 AM
Are dump trucks required to cover their load? All seem to be equipped with the cover, but rarely do the drivers use them. I am very, very tired of my windshield getting dinged.
Trudy D'Armond January 25, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Because of the clairity of the photo with the woman and her little dog, something tells me she's waiting for someone in a store's parking lot, while giving her dog a breath of fresh air. I see this a lot at the grocery store when I go shopping. I also see many elderly folks driving around town with their dogs in their laps, hanging their heads out the drivers window. That just scares the heck out of me. I am a huge animal lover and I tend to "humanize" my pets. But to allow them to impede my reflexes while driving is something I'd NEVER do. I love our elde folks, too. Times have changed here on the Plateau. It's not 1950 anymore. Even though you might find yourself wanting to take fido out for a drive on a lazy, summer afternoon. You are jepordizing your life and others allowing the dog to be in your lap. Secure your animal as you would a human! Pet supply stores and websites have harnesses for this purpose. I also just cringe when I see dogs floundering around in the back of a pickup truck, unsecured... traveling down the highway. Really? Have these people been living in a tree house in the thin air elevation? You've touched a sensitive spot in my common sense and reasoning department. Be safe, not sorry.
Jeanne Gustafson January 25, 2013 at 06:41 PM
I agree with the basic premise of the harness, but I've had trouble finding one that fits the dog well and doesn't allow its leg to get tangled up if it moves at all, and several of my fellow dog owners have expressed similar concerns. My dog behaves well in the car (she only gets in my seat when I'm not there), but I don't want her to get hurt in an accident or sudden stop. Does anyone have a favorite brand that doesn't end up seeming worse than leaving the dog free in the back seat?
Trudy D'Armond January 26, 2013 at 12:21 AM
Jeanne, Amazon has quite the list of favorite dog harnesses for secured auto transportation. I suppose it would depend and the breed and size of your pup. I have had some wonderful dogs, but now have kitties only. Here is a link to the Amazon page with all the available dog harnesses. http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Pet-Supplies-Dog-Car-Harnesses/zgbs/pet-supplies/3024191011
Jeanne Gustafson January 26, 2013 at 12:44 AM
Thanks for the resource, Trudy. Luckily, my dog doesn't try to get in front and sits and stays well, but I still worry about her flying around and getting hurt if something were to happen, and she loves joining me in the car.
Kelli Taylor January 26, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Mud Bay has an amazingly talented and knowledgeable staff. If you take your dog in, they will help you fit your fur baby with the right harness. I believe they do this for everyone or perhaps they noticed me frazzled and confused by which one I needed. Good Luck!
steve swortz January 26, 2013 at 07:37 PM
Kelli Taylor did you really type "fur baby"?
Jeanne Gustafson January 26, 2013 at 10:33 PM
I've been hearing lots of people call their pets "fur babies" these days, Steve.
Lance Orloff January 26, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Gee, lots of good questions that are directed at Trooper Guy Gill. No Answers. Trooper Guy Gill is kind of a bust when it comes to follow through. Is there a Trooper Guy Gill? I did a google image search on Trooper Guy Gill. https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&sugexp=les%3B&gs_rn=1&gs_ri=hp&gs_mss=trooper+guy&tok=TRZIQ1usGXbN_XI1jMWW5A&cp=12&gs_id=1a&xhr=t&q=trooper+guy+gill&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.41524429,d.cGE&biw=1192&bih=523&wrapid=tljp1359242583013022&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=UGUEUZ25AaGriAKWo4CwCQ#imgrc=_ ...It pulled a few images of cops. It also pulled an image of a bikini babe in the snow and a dog with it's head up the butt of another dog. I would like to see answers from a real trooper to some of these questions but if not, then is the dog picture: http://www.dvorak.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/lapdog_media1.jpg ... is just as valid.
John L Peterson January 27, 2013 at 06:45 AM
My Alaskan Malamute is hardly a lap dog like the dog pictured. Because of her size, I went to a pet store and purchased a harness that is designed to let me to seat belt her in place much as one would a child. I am safer, she is safer, and the general public is safer. Years ago I had bought one for my big Malamute male (225# of muscle) and he loved sitting on the seat watching the world go by as we went down the highway. His harness was too big for my current smaller female, so I purchased one that would fit her. These types of harnesses seemed to be available for most sized dogs. and I encourage their use, It may save lives both human, and those of your pets.
Lauren Padgett (Editor) January 27, 2013 at 08:27 PM
Trooper Guy Gill is a busy man! We have worked out a system with him where he answers reader questions and we post them, but he probably won't be participating in the discussion thread here. However, we are reading the questions and documenting them to send to him. If you want to reach him directly, you can follow him on twitter at @wspd1pio. He answers reader questions there, too! (I have also attached a photo of him to this article to prove he does, in fact, exist!)
Carla Ritchie January 28, 2013 at 09:53 PM
There are various harnesses out there - this site tested a few of them http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/7/prweb9672761.htm
cR January 29, 2013 at 06:21 AM
No-one should drive with pets in there lap, nor should anyone text and drive. Both are distractions. And for the people who are stupid enough to do it need to get the hell off the road, because your only endangering yourself and everyone else on the road. Why does a question like this even have to be asked? If you drive a car, you should know damn well a dog in your lap is a distraction. And if you didn't know that, then stay home and never drive again. Because at some point you'll just find yourself wrecking into someone or something.

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