f/k/a . . . the archives

September 30, 2008

arnold curbs the lapdog driving ban

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,Procrastination Punditry — David Giacalone @ 10:50 am

.. Paris and Jessica can keep doing it in their cars ..

A sensible law that would have banned driving with a pet in your lap was vetoed a few days ago by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has previously supported bans on texting while driving and driving with a cellphone in your hand.  (AP report, Sept. 28, 2008; and npr’s Morning Edition, Sept. 29, 2008)   As f/k/a has campaigned for laws prohibiting DWP and DWT, we perked up our ears and decided to sniff out the story behind Arnold’s veto. (And, as we’re also putting off writing a much more complicated and serious piece, this posting grew into a major production.)

A primary source for this post is the article “Schwarzenegger vetoes bill forbidding drivers to hold pets” (Sept. 28, 2008), in the Sunday Sacramento Bee, which has the most thorough discussion we’ve been able to locate on the context and pros and cons of the Bill, AB 2233.  The ban included a base fine of $35, which could have risen to $150 with state and county fees.  According to the London Telegraph,

“The driving-with-animals bill was backed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles but ridiculed as the ‘Paris Hilton bill’ by critics who described it as unwarranted interference by government.”

The law in question has been derisively called the “Paris Hilton bill,” because many celebrities are among the folk who are so attached to their pets and so self-absorbed, they’re willing to endanger the animal and others on the road in order to keep them snuggled in their laps while maneuvering large, fast-moving objects down our highways.   Predictably, according to the Bee, “Talk show host Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives ridiculed the lap-dog measure as excessive government” and a deprivation of some important liberty.  Nonetheless, Gov. Schwarzenegger has given no indication that he opposed the law on its merits.  Instead, the veto — among dozens more this signing period — was part of his current policy to sign only “highest priority” laws so long as the California Legislature fails to pass a much-delayed budget.

Disclaimer: The f/k/a Gang has not examined the 114 bills Arnold did sign on Saturday, to compare their urgency and importance to AB 2233 and the 94 other bills he vetoed.

lightning flash–
only the dog’s face
is innocent

……… by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

traffic jam
the nodding dog
springs to life

.. by Matt Morden – Morden Haiku (October 5, 2005)

Granted, this bill would not have been my own highest legislative priority this year, but it is not frivolous, and once the work has been done to get it to the Governor’s desk, it should have been signed.   (If we only did the most important things in life, an awful lot of worthwhile efforts would never be made.) The bill’s author, Assemblyman Bill Maze, who appears to be a conservative Republican from Visalia, has sponsored a lot of legislation.  He proposed AB 2233 after seeing a Tulare County woman driving with three dogs on her lap.

Maze argues: “You’ve got a live animal that has a mind of its own . . . It can get tangled in the steering wheel or pinned between your knees. It can create a real hazard for yourself and everyone else.”

And, the Bee reports:

  • “A traffic collision at 40 mph can hurtle a 25-pound dog through a vehicle with the force of a 1,000-pound object, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.”
  • “California Highway Patrol statistics show that four people were killed and 346 others injured in collisions from 2001 to 2007 due to driver inattention caused by an animal. No breakdown exists of how many were in their owner’s lap.” And,
  • “Nationwide Mutual Insurance found in a 2006 survey that 8 percent of drivers had held a pet while behind the wheel.”
  • “State law currently allows drivers to be cited if their vision is obstructed or a distraction causes them to violate a rule of the road – but not simply for holding an animal. . . . Pets must be secured in the back of a pickup but can roam freely inside a vehicle.”

Opponents say the bill amounts to excessive nannyism, and that such matters need to be left to the common sense judgment of the individual.  Of course, that’s the problem in the America of the 21st Centry:  Far too many people either have absolutely no common sense or choose to ignore it and follow their personal whim, regardless of the risk created for injury to others.

pickup truck
an old retriever
laps the wind

… by Tom Painting -  The Heron’s Nest 5.5 (May 2003)

.. According to the Bee, critics of the lapdog driving ban also insist that “Quieting a whining or scared pet on your lap, while driving, can be safer than to be distracted by an animal’s barking, fidgeting or misbehavior in a back seat.”  Of course, that proves too much — we wouldn’t buy this argument if it were a child or significant other who was misbehaving.  More to the point, it suggests a very good reason why a pet that is likely to be fidgety or upset while in a car should either be left at home or safely secured in a seat.

In an AutoBlog posting called “Governator vetos ban on lap-dogs while driving” (Sept. 29, 2008), Jonathan Ramsey observed yesterday:

“While we understand the spirit of the veto — California does have much bigger issues to deal with than lapdogs — we do sometimes wonder why a 40-pound kid has to be in a child seat, but a 40-pound, unpredictable animal can take a nap between you and the steering wheel.”

Heather at The Food Bowl weblog went into more detail, when the bill first got publicity last Spring, in her post “No More Doggies Out the Window” (May 13, 2008):

.. ….”To be honest I think this is a good move. Keeping your pet restrained either in a carrier or pet-specific seat harness while in a moving vehicle not only keeps them safe but you as well.

“Restraining your pet helps you concentrate, and what happens if you’re in an accident? Your pet could be injured from the impact (and so could you with a now-flying canine in the car!) or if it manages to get out of the car it could run away. Do you really need Fluffy on your lap for that ten minute drive?”

Similarly, when the legislation was proposed, a post at Pet Industry Insight, a weblog of the American Pet Products Association, explained:

“The issue of concern is that lapdogs are distracting and could put motorists at risk. A live animal can scamper between the driver and the steering wheel or underneath the brake pedal causing major driving implications. Not only are unrestrained pets a threat to the driver, but they too, face danger if not buckled in. Pets see the same risk a child (or any passenger for that matter) would if an accident occurred, which is why if Maze’s bill passes, drivers caught with their Chihuahuas or Poodles unrestrained will pay a penalty.”

Pet Industry Insight (which, naturally, promotes pet-related products) then asks: “So how should drivers keep their pets in place if they can’t be on their laps or in the passenger seat?” [for the answer, and much more, including some haiku and senryu, go below the fold]

Their answer is that “There are several products out there to protect both you and your pet from potential hazards on the road.”  For example:

“Among the most common setups are the back seat barriers, a strong wall that prevents pet interference from the backseat. For those pets that like to get up and move around while traveling, there are zip line/harnesses and booster seats that allow your pet the flexibility to safely move around in the car without interfering with the driver and passengers.

“Other popular products provide protection through vehicle seat belt use and of course, traveling carriers for the smaller pet travelers. Looking ahead, there is even a major auto manufacturer currently testing a built-in pet holder in place of the glove compartment.   Whichever method of restraint you choose, make sure you, your pet and passengers are secure and protected!”

For more from the blogisphere, see: “California Bans Texting While Driving; Lapdogs OK” at the Kicking Tires weblog (which can’t understand banning texting but not lapdogs); and at Sit, Stay, Speak (where South Florida Talks About Pets), Diane Lade posted “Pets still in the driver’s seat in California and Florida” (September 29, 2008).

It’s not at all surprising to me that many pet owners see the wisdom in banning driving with a pet in your lap.  I’m simply not persuaded by knee-jerk reactions from those who feel they have some significant liberty principle to defend or assert — and who claim the right to unnecessarily increase the dangers on our highways, simply because it amuses, comforts, enriches or fulfills them.

The first Commenter to an ABC network local story about the Schwarzenegger veto asserted yesterday:

“Anyone who thinks they can legislate good decisions by citizens has no business serving the taxpayers.”

Although no ban has ever prevented the proscribed conduct completely (e.g., murder, rape, robbery), the f/k/a Gang is happy to say that laws often help deter negligent and reckless behavior (i.e., DWI), by changing attitudes, creating stigmas, and deterring the conduct through the threat of punishment. With freedom comes responsibility.

Driving may be a virtual necessity in America, but it is also a privilege that comes with responsibilities.  Conduct that can be freely done in your home or backyard is not automatically appropriate in your autos. Society has the right to protect the rest of us from the reckless whims of other drivers.  No matter how cute you think it makes you look, or how emotionally rewarding it may be, driving with a pet in your lap is irresponsible and dangerous, and should be unlawful.

See the Dog Law weblog for more information about state and local laws relating to Dogs in Vehicles.   The author reports, for example, that “Many local governments, and some states, now regulate how dogs can be carried in pickup beds.” Indeed, “according to a California state legislator, approximately 100,000 dogs a year nationwide are killed because they jump or are thrown from a pickup. There’s no reliable way of estimating how much damage and how many serious accidents such incidents cause.”

p.s. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a few poems on dogs, laps, cars, etc.

long wait alone
in the parking lot. . .
a dog in the next car

. . . by Tom Clausen, from being there (Swamp Press, 2005)

mud-spattered pickup-
four dogs watch
the tavern door

…………. by Billie Wilson – The Heron’s Nest (Feb. 2001)

Winter moon–
the lost dog flyer
blows from the telephone pole

… by Rebecca Lilly – Shadwell Hills (Birch Brook Press, 2002) 

flitting butterfly
to Buddha’s lap
returns

harvest moon–
my lap would be a pillow
if my child were here

……………… by Kobayashi Issa,
translated by David G. Lanoue

on the beach
the dog’s black nose
powdered with sand

werewolf movie
at the commercial
letting the dog out

fetching the stick
my dog
refuses to chase

… by w.f. owen — Haiku Notebook

country graveyard
a dog burying
a bone

nobody on the street
stray dog stops to bite
its wagging tail

………………………. by George Swede from Almost Unseen

unseasonably warm
a puppy laps up
our snow buddha

… by dagosan

3 Comments

  1. *bows down to Arnie*

    I wonder where he gets all his ideas? Now that you think of it, why should we really be driving with dogs on our laps when they are most of the time unruly and would go scampering about anywhere in the car but not your lap. *sigh*

    Comment by Paula — September 30, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  2. i’m quite surprised to find that this bill was vetoed. clearly, an animal in the front of the car can be a distraction, and that distraction can lead to the injury or death of another person.

    all he had to do was let it pass. that’s it. the work had already been done by the legislature. all he had to do was nothing.

    this does not at all sound to me like a decision based on the issue’s merits.

    Comment by kouji — September 30, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

  3. Thanks for your comments, Paula and kouji. It seems quite clear that Gov. S. did not consider the merits before vetoing this bill. He is basically saying to the Legislature, “Until you send me a budget that I can sign, I’m only going to let you enact essential laws. Anything else you do, I will veto.” He wants to get the lawmakers to focus on the budget as their first priority.

    Comment by David Giacalone — October 1, 2008 @ 7:38 am

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