TODAY   |  October 01, 2012

Buckle up, Fido! NJ considers pet seat belt law

Though Governor Chris Christie has called it “stupid,” New Jersey lawmakers are considering requiring pets to strap in when riding in cars. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports on the controversial new proposal.

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>>> when you drive, it's the law to buckle up. now one state is considering making it a rule to have it for your four-legged friends, as well. mara, good morning to you.

>> reporter: savannah, good morning. lots of pet owners take their dogs everywhere, including in the car. but now the rules for taking your pooch for a ride may be changing as new jersey considers a bill that would require seat belts for dogs, claiming it better protects motorists and their pets. at katie's pet depot in northern new jersey , harnesses for dogs are being snapped up almost as quickly as dog bones are.

>> they have been very difficult to keep in stock.

>> reporter: increase of sales of these attachments that fit into car seat belts to secure your pooch while you're behind the wheel is due in large part for a proposal for a new jersey law that would require restraints for animals in cars. the proposal is being met with mixed responses from dog owners.

>> something more us to spend money on.

>> i think it's a good law, smart law. you want to make sure your dogs are harnessed in the car like a person.

>> i get the principle, but in reality, it's kind of hard for a dog owner.

>> reporter: democratic assembly woman grace spencer, a dog owner herself, proposed the measure and is pushing for the bill to become law.

>> it's important animals be restrained in a car, because animals sometimes pose a distraction and hindrance to the operator of the vehicle. animals tend to act like animals. if they're surprised, they're going to move accordingly.

>> reporter: according to the proposed bill, drivers found breaking the law would get a $20 ticket or in some cases be charged with animal cruelty and fined up to $1,000. if enacted, new jersey would have the toughest animal seatbelt law in the country. new jersey governor chris christie says that lawmakers are wasting their time, and vowed he would not sign the bill.

>> governor, what's up with this dog seatbelt stuff?

>> it's the stupidest thing i've ever heard in my life.

>> reporter: according to aaa, about 20% of participants admitted to taking their hands offer the wheel to keep dogs from climbing into the front seat. 31% said they were distracted by their passenger pooch. in recent years, distracted driving has become a serious issue with most passing laws banning texting or talking on the phone while driving. assembly woman spencer says dog distraction is no different than texting while driving.

>> i think there is some room for comparison there. they say it takes four seconds for you to be distracted by a text for someone to lose their life. it's in the interest of the driver, the dog, the pedestrian and everyone that uses any roadway here in the state of new jersey .

>> reporter: now, safety experts also point out, in an accident, an unrestrained pet can become a dangerous projectile. another reason proponents say a law like this is necessary. savannah?