Ask A Trooper: Distracted driving could apply to unsecured pets

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, March 3, 2021

By Sgt. Troy Christianson

Question: I’m wondering what the law says about people tooling around the city with a dog on their lap. Usually the dog has it’s head sticking out the driver side’s window enjoying the wind. Dog’s are unpredictable and could cause the driver to lose control of steering. Not to mention the visibility problems out the window and driver’s side mirror. Is this a traffic violation, if so, a warning or first time fine. If not, how does it compare to cell phone use?  Thank you.

Answer: There is no specific law stating where a pet is allowed to ride in a vehicle.  As for a dog on a lap, or head hanging out an open window, there would be no violation of law and no citation issued for just that in itself.  As you mentioned, if it “interferes with their driving,” a citation could be issued.

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Driving smart and focusing 100 percent of your attention on the road can help avoid tragedy for everyone sharing the road. Distracted driving-related crashes claim an average of 41 lives and 200 life-changing injuries each year, causing a lifetime of grief and pain for the families left behind and an untold story of what could have been.

In my opinion, distracted driving applies to unsecured pets. Having a pet sit on a driver’s lap or loose in a vehicle could result in distraction, as well as visual obstruction.

That pet could also become a projectile in a crash. I have seen unsecured pets thrown into vehicle occupants during a crash causing unnecessary injuries to people and pets. For instance, if you are involved in a crash with a pet in your lap and the airbags deploy, it could result in the pet being thrown into you, causing serious injury or death to you and your pet.

For your pet’s safety and the safety of all passengers in the vehicle, take the extra time and effort to properly secure your pets so you can drive smart by always paying attention behind the wheel.

You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober.  Help us drive Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester MN 55901-5848.  (Or reach him at,