This week's 'Ask Evan' deals with pets in cars. Pamela P asks, "I would like to know if it is legal to drive your car while your pet sits on your lap? I have seen so many drivers with a dog sitting on their lap while driving. How can this not be hazardous, let alone legal?"
I checked with both PennDOT and a local police chief to get an answer. PennDOT says there is nothing in the law that specifically says you cannot drive with your pet in your lap. However, it is not the wisest choice for many reasons. If you are involved in a frontal crash and your air bag deploys, it could be bad news. It is recommended that the driver be at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel. If you've taken up that space with your dog, that will most likely cause serious injury or death to the dog and in turn cause more serious injury to the driver because the airbag will not provide the proper protection. You also risk the dog being thrown out the window if you have to jam on the brakes for any reason.
A seat belt keeps from being tossed around or ejected in the event of a crash possibly saving your life. So why wouldn't you want to protect the life of your pet? There are harnesses made for dogs and carriers that are designed to be installed with seat belts.
The police chief I contacted agreed. He says its situational. If a driver is involved in an accident where the animal could have been distracting to the driver then yes, they could be cited. However, it is not currently per se illegal to drive with an animal in your lap. House bill 749 would make it illegal to have any animal in your lap while driving. That bill was sent to the transportation committee in 2017, but so far has gone no where.
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