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Driving with Fido: Legal in most states, controversial in all

WASHINGTON  Those happy dogs sitting in a driver's lap or hanging their heads out the car window may look like the model of canine companionship. But they're also potential projectiles, poised to rocket through the air if there's a crash.

"A 10-pound dog can turn into 300 pounds of force at 30 miles an hour," said Richard Romer, AAA's state relations manager. "Going on a trip with Fido can really turn fatal if it's not restrained."

But while traffic safety experts say a dog moving freely in a car can be dangerous for the driver, passengers, other motorists and the pet, it's perfectly legal in most states.

Hawaii is the only state that specifically prohibits drivers from holding an animal in their lap or allowing one in their immediate area if it interferes with their ability to control the car, according to AAA. In at least three states - Nevada, New Jersey and Washington - animal cruelty laws that make it illegal to improperly transport an animal could apply to driving with an unrestrained pet, but Romer said they are likely to be enforced only in egregious situations.

Washington and at least seven other states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive distracted driving laws that generally prohibit careless driving or tasks not associated with operating the vehicle, and interacting with a pet might be considered a distraction, Romer said. D.C.'s law is the only one that specifically mentions pet interactions in its definition of distracted driving.

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