Driving with pets on lap still legal in Maryland -- for now

Driving with pets on lap still legal in Maryland -- for now
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Maryland Del. James E. Malone Jr. was motoring down I-97 the other day when he came up behind a car doing about 40 in the fast lane.

When he moved to pass the car on the slow side, he looked over and noticed the driver was a woman with four dogs in her lap.

"I think one of them was driving," he says, still incredulous. "Four different dogs. I'm like good grief. You just look at them and shake your head."

But, hey, that sort of thing is still legal in Maryland.

Lawmakers just foiled Malone's bill that would have made driving distracted by animals illegal, an offense punishable by a $500 fine.

The bill would have outlawed driving with an animal on the front seat that obstructed the view or one that otherwise took the driver's attention off the road.

Cute kittens -- this means you.

Malone, a Democrat representing Howard and Baltimore counties, pulled his bill this week after lawmakers killed the Senate version of it. The Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, who perhaps enjoy driving with animals on their laps, trounced the bill in a 9-2 vote.

Perhaps it was one of them who Malone passed on his way to Annapolis.

In a study last year, AAA found that 52 percent of drivers admitted that their pets have taken their attention from the road. Twenty-three percent used their hands to hold the dog in place when they braked. Seventeen percent allowed the pup to sit in their lap while they drove. Three percent took a picture of their pet WHILE they drove.

AAA testified in favor of Maryland's bill, as did animal advocates, who pointed out how unrestrained pets can easily become projectiles in the car. Maryland State Police took no position, not because they didn't think the bill was a good idea, but, because they wanted even stronger legislation -- something that would have banned all distracted driving, everything from lipstick application to texting to, who knows, trying to find your favorite song on the U2 disc.

But senators weren't down on the bill because it was too weak. Just the opposite.

"They were like, so it's next going to be no driving while shaving," said Donna Corfield, the legislative aid of Sen. James N. Robey, a Howard County Democrat who sponsored the senate version of the bill. "How do you draw the line?"