The new distracted driving target: Lap dogs

First cell phones and texting, now a ban on lap dogs, while driving that is.

Rhode Island lawmakers are weighing legislation to make it illegal for you - and your dog - to get behind the wheel. It's part of a comprehensive effort to crack down on distracted drivers, reports The Providence Journal.

The lawmaker who sponsored the bill, Rep. Peter G. Palumbo,  proposed the bill after a constituent told him of her concerns after seeing a dog in the front seat of another driver's car at a busy intersection.

Violators would receive an $85 fine for first offenses, a $100 fine for second offenses and a $125 fine for subsequent offenses.

A 2010 survey by AAA found that driving while balancing a dog on one's lap is far more prevalent - and distracting - then anyone thought.

According to the survey, 21% of respondents admitted letting a dog sit in their laps while they drove; 7% said they'd given their dog food or water while driving, and 5% had played with the pup while the car moved. Thirty-one percent admitted to being distracted by their dog while driving, no matter where the dog spent the journey.

Several states have laws requiring that animals traveling in "open" areas of a vehicle, such as the back of a pickup truck be restrained; but none apparently have made it illegal to have unrestrained dogs inside the car. Tennessee is considering a ban and the California legislature actually approved a measure halting free roaming dogs in cars in 2008 but then-Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed it. 

(As far as we know, no such bill has been proposed in Pennsylvania or New Jersey).

Car cats may be at risk too. A South Dakota woman was found guilty of posing a risk to public safety in 2010 after being pulled over for having 15 cats loose in her car.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson wrote at the time: "Because of the cats in the back window, Edwards failed to see the patrol car behind her and nearly backed into it," Imagine if there had been a child on a bicycle instead of a patrol car there."

Then there are the people who pile up boxes, or line the back window with ball caps or stuffed animals or hang shirts on curtain rods in the back seat? Shouldn't they be considered a driving hazard too?

(Photo: John Freidah/Providence Journal)