Raleigh, N.C. — Rep. Garland Pierce, D-Scotland, has decided he was barking up the wrong tree.
His effort to make driving with a pet in your lap a $100 infraction unleashed howls of protests from a number of quarters, Pierce said. So, instead of pushing that bill, he will ask lawmakers to consider ordering a comprehensive study of distracted driving that would recommend changes to state law.
"We've got other important issues to deal with, so I didn't want to get bogged down in that dogfight," Pierce said Friday.
While there are examples of similar laws in others states – and examples of accidents that have been caused by pets riding in the driver's seat – Pierce said he is unsure if his bill could clear committee, much less pass a floor vote.
This is not Pierce's first time dealing with a distracted driving issue. He was a dogged proponent of a measure restricting texting while driving, a bill that also encountered stiff initial resistance.
"Sometimes, these type of bills create a little bit more reaction than you want," he said.
Some constituents who objected to the lap animal measure, which legislative observers dubbed the "Toonces bill" in honor of a driving cat on "Saturday Night Live", said they simply enjoy rolling with Fido in the front seat. Others raised more serious concerns, such as veterans who need service animals close at hand to calm anxiety or detect medical conditions.
"I didn't want to put my colleagues between voting for public safety and pet owners," Pierce said.
A study, he said, could give the idea a chance or turn up something more pressing.
"There might be other things that are just as deadly," he said.