By Dr. Anthony DeCarlo
The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) recognizes that distracted driving is a significant problem that is noticed not only in the Garden State, but one that is faced across the country. However, transporting an unrestrained animal should not be considered a cruelty offense under the state’s animal cruelty statutes.
According to the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, some distractions while driving include: eating and drinking, talking to passengers, or adjusting a radio. Should the state of New Jersey fine citizens as they exit the fast food drive- through or issue citations to drivers that are seen changing the radio station? Of course not, that practice would be seen as impractical and avaricious.
N.J.S.A 4:22-18 states, “A person who shall carry, or cause to be carried, a living animal or creature in or upon a vehicle or otherwise, in a cruel or inhumane manner, shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and punished as provided in subsection a. of R.S.4:22-17.” The fine of this penalty can range from $250 to $1,000 and carry a six-month jail term for each offense. This would include, for example, carrying an animal in the back of an open pick-up truck, yet it is quite a stretch to equate driving a dog to the groomer or veterinarian in the back seat of a car as “cruel.”
The NJVMA acknowledges that unrestrained pets can be a distraction to drivers and recommends that when traveling with a pet, the animal be transported so as not to be a distraction to the driver. All pets have individualized needs and may include placing your pet in a travelling crate, pet seatbelt harness or in the back seat. Nevertheless, the NJVMA does not endorse the imputation of citations under the animal cruelty statute.
The NJVMA works to assure that pets stay safe, but would be disheartened to see any animal owner cited inappropriately for animal cruelty. It is also important to remember in these warm summer months, to not leave pets unattended in a parked car as the high temperature can be fatal to your pet.
Dr. Anthony DeCarlo is president of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association.