Increased enforcement under a national seat belt campaign is causing New Jersey officials to crack down on unrestrained pets riding in cars, according to a report from NorthJersey.com.
A 16-year-old state statute defines driving with an unbuckled pet as an act of animal cruelty, subjecting drivers to fines from $250 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for each offense – that is, for each animal in the car.
Under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "Click It or Ticket" program, the state will be cracking down on offenders, officials from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Motor Vehicle Commission told the outlet Wednesday.
They suggest using special backseat animal harnesses that attach to seat belts or keeping animals in secured carriers. Colonel of the state Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Frank Rizzo reportedly said that the steep penalties are due to the fact that pets can become projectiles during car crashes. Animals riding in front seats can also become injured if an airbag deploys.
Officials cited a 2010 American Automobile Association survey in which almost 20 percent of respondents admitted to driving with pets in their laps and nearly a third of them said that unrestrained animals in cars were a distraction. Distracted driving is the number one cause of road fatalities, both nationwide and in New Jersey, where 130 peopled died due to the practice in 2010, according to figures from the National Highway Transportation Administration.
The paper notes that, though the pet restraint law has been in effect for well over a decade, drivers were not penalized for having unbuckled adults in the backseat until 2009.