The New Jersey Pet Seat Belt Law is Back!

It looks like the New Jersey pet seat belt issue is rearing its ugly head again.  You might remember the mess that was created when the NJSPCA issued a statement referencing a long-ago passed New Jersey law regarding the transportation of livestock and the application of that statute to allow police to issue traffic tickets to drivers who have unrestrained pets riding in their cars.  The NJSPCA later backtracked on their statement and the tried to quell the public outcry confusion that ensued.

It would appear today that the issue is back, this time supported by New Jersey lawmaker Grace Spencer of Essex, NJ.  Assemblywoman Spencer is proposing a new bill that would require pets (both dogs and cats) to be buckled up or restrained.  If a driver is stopped with an animal which is unrestrained, they would be issued a $20 ticket and face a conviction of animal cruelty.  The animal cruelty conviction, a civil penalty, carries a fine of $250-$1,000.  If you recall, it was the interpretation and application of the civil penalty regarding the animal cruelty conviction regarding the current standing statute (4:22-18) which had people up-in-arms.

Reportedly, Assemblywoman Spencer got the idea for the bill when she visited a school in Newark and was told a story about an injured animal.  If New Jersey adopts this law, they would have the toughest pet seat belt law in the Nation.  Correction, they would have the only pet seat belt law in the Nation… (although several have laws regarding pets being restrained when riding in flat-bed trucks).

Conflicting Bills Arise in NJ Legislature

There is a competing bill that would ensure, in plain English and not open to interpretation, that pets can ride in vehicles without the use of a restraint.  That bill was introduced by a group of Republican lawmakers headed by Assemblyman Jay Webber.  That bill expressly states that not harnessing a pet is not considered animal cruelty, and thus not subject to the 4:22-18 statute regarding transportation of an animal in a ‘cruel or inhumane manner’ (as stated in the statute).

The Republican bill arose from the mess and confusion created earlier this year when the NJSPCA issued the statement that drivers would be subjected to animal cruelty fines and possible jail time if stopped with their animals unrestrained.

There have been dog restraint fines handed out

Reportedly though, there have been fines handed out as a result of the violation of statute 4:22-18 regarding the transportation of pets which are unrestrained –  but not many, only five or so in six years.  The report goes on to note that those were extreme cases, such as a referenced case of a dog riding on the gas tank of a motorcycle.

What does this mean for pet-owning drivers?

Until either of these laws are passed or shot down, it’s hard to say.  It’s clear that New Jersey Troopers are not writing many animal cruelty citations for unrestrained pets.  However, the statute has been applied.  Is it likely that a driver will issued a ticket and traffic citation for animal cruelty outside of an extreme case – probably not.  One thing is sure, if either of these bills get passed, at least there will be some clarity on the subject.

Contact us

If you have been stopped an issued a traffic violation or traffic-related criminal citation, contact us today.  The Law Offices of Joseph Lombardo has been representing drivers and individuals charged criminally since 1993.

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