To be a true New Jerseyan is to have a sense of humor second to none; it helps deflect being the butt of jokes. In some instances, the Garden State invites those jokes.
Almost from the time New Jersey announced it would enforce an age-old statute requiring pet owners to seat belt their furry friends under the “Click it or Ticket It” program, the jokes have been endless.
Now, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex) is pushing for a law, separate from the animal cruelty statute, prohibiting dogs and cats from traveling in vehicles without being seat belted.
"AJ got harnessed. He’s not happy, but he’s harnessed in the back seat," she said of her Teacup Pomeranian. "I realize there are people that think that is going too far, but I’m optimistic it will move through the Assembly."
Under New Jersey Statute 4:22-18, it’s a disorderly persons offense to drive around pets "in a cruel or inhumane manner." The statute, however, is vague in outlining what is considered cruel or inhumane; prompting Spencer to propose A3221. Drivers would be ticketed $20 ticket and could also be convicted of an animal cruelty offense, which carries a civil penalty of $250 to $1,000.
"I just thought that was outrageous," said Assemblyman Jay Webber, (R-Morris) of the existing law. "No one has ever interpreted it that way. And now there are hundreds of thousands of pet owners in the state who are now confused whether they have to restrain their pets while driving around.”
Tim Martin, a spokesman for the New Jersey SPCA, said the group does not target drivers who don’t harness their pets.
"The point we were trying to make is having Spot on your lap while you’re driving is dangerous to both you and the animal," he said.
It’s no laughing matter that man’s best friend could become a “backseat bullet” in a car crash. The same is true for small children, who are required to be in safety seats in the rear of the vehicle.
Whether you are an advocate of pet seat belt legislation or not, one of the best solutions for safety remains common sense.