In Washington State, there are rules against driving while distracted. However, there is not currently a law stating that a pet must be restrained inside of a vehicle while you’re driving. There is, however, a law that says it’s illegal for drivers to transport an unrestrained dog or any other animal outside of their vehicles. This means that carrying an unrestrained animal in the back of your pickup truck is against the law.
This law seeks to prevent accidents involving animals who may try to jump out of a moving vehicle or who might fall out. Furthermore, having an unrestrained dog being carried outside of your vehicle could make your ride even more distracting.
According to the Washington State Patrol, while the law still doesn’t account for unrestrained pets inside the car, it is important that drivers understand that loose animals in the vehicle could put them at risk.
“It’s not a primary violation, we can’t stop you for having a loose animal in the vehicle,” a Washington State Patrol spokesperson told reporters. In any case, if the trooper believes the loose animal is distracting and the driver is already committing a traffic violation, he or she may have to step in.
“We see a lot of animals in cars and there are times when we can tell that looks like it’ll be a distraction, but if they’re not committing a primary violation we don’t have the authority to contact that vehicle or stop that vehicle.”
Drivers who are concerned they are allowing distractions to be part of their daily driving should first ask themselves if they are engaging in any activity that might be taking their attention away from the road while operating their vehicle.
Activities such as eating, drinking, talking to a passenger, talking on the phone, using voice-to-text features, fidgeting with the radio or in-car infotainment system, and even dealing with noisy children or pets in the backseat are all considered distractions by experts.
By law, Washington drivers are already prohibited from eating, drinking, holding their phone, and even applying makeup while behind the wheel. However, having to deal with unrestrained pets is still not considered a distraction under the law.
If you catch yourself taking part in any of these activities, you are putting yourself, your passengers, and other drivers in grave danger.