In my experience, plenty (if not most) people who drive with their dog in the car let Fido have the back seat to roam about and possibly even stick his head out the window (dogs seem to love that). I’ve also seen drivers who will simply sit the dog in the passenger seat. Some drivers even let the dog sit in their lap while driving.
In New Jersey, driving an unrestrained pet (it applies to cats too), can cost you between $250 and $1,000 per pet, and you could also do six months in the slammer. The reason for the potential jail time is that, under New Jersey law, driving an unrestrained pet in the car constitutes animal cruelty. The stated safety concern for humans is that, in an accident, Fido could become a dangerous projectile.
Not surprisingly, sometimes the law is an ass, because the fine for driving a car with an unrestrained person in the car (including persons in the back seat) is $46.00. I guess the State Legislators don’t consider humans involved in a crash to be potentially dangerous projectiles.
I, for one, always wear a seat belt, and I always have everyone in the car buckle up. It just makes good sense to me, as does using a restraint on a pet (although when I had a dog he was free to lounge around the back seat and stick his head out the window, weather permitting). That said, I am not a fan of mandatory seat belt laws. If adults choose to ride around unbuckled (dumb, in my view), or choose to let Fido have the back seat, I don’t think it’s any of the government’s concern. As for letting your pooch sit on your lap while driving (really, really dumb in my view), no new law is necessary. I think a careless driving summons would be appropriate.