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Lap dog drivers

No matter how much you love him, Fido doesn't belong behind the wheel with you.

June 12, 2008

There's no accounting for trends. Saltillo tiles were chiseled off floors to make room for distressed cherrywood. Garden gnomes gave way to designer boulders for the backyard. Chai latte, anyone?

On the road, the gas-guzzling SUV is gone (well, we can wish), and hybrids are hot. The ubiquitous hand-held cellphone for drivers has had as much overexposure as golden retrievers, and it's about to become illegal anyway. Over the last year, though, a dangerous driving fashion has gained popularity: a dog or two adorning the driver's lap.

In Southern California, where driving is a form of personal expression, it's unthinkable to begrudge motorists their stick-figure family window decals or their tattered Lakers flags. We draw the line, however, at endangering others. Like ignoring the dividing lines on streets, which, contrary to what some drivers seem to think, were not painted there as decorations. And the dogs.

It's surprising that a bill to ban drivers from holding pets in their laps has been the target of ridicule. AB 2233, introduced by Assemblyman Bill Maze (R-Visalia), has been called a nanny-state bill. That would be true if the intent were to protect the pet. Much as we love dogs, we'll leave that job up to their owners. But if legislators thought hanging on to a cellphone was a driving hazard -- and it is -- what about an animal blocking the driver's vision and ability to hold on to the steering wheel?

Drivers distracted by their pets caused more than 100 accidents last year statewide. But it doesn't take statistics to see that drivers are reaching over, under and around their pets to get a grip on the wheel, that they're making wide turns and can't see cars or people to the left because the dog is drooling out the driver's window. Or that one short stop means the driver either has to use one hand to grab the animal or get a panicked ball of fluff flying into his or her face.

Here's an outmoded idea: Motorists should keep both hands on the wheel and their focus on safe driving. It shouldn't take another law to reinforce the classic rule of the road, but if common sense won't get dogs out of the driver's seat, then maybe the threat of fines will.

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