Come July, driving with a cell phone in your hand will be illegal for California's more than 30 million drivers. Driving with a dog in your lap may be next.

California State Assemblyman Bill Maze, R-Visalia, designed Assembly Bill 2233 as a ban to keep people from literally getting behind the wheel with their four-legged companions. Under his proposed legislation, which has passed the Assembly and next heads to the Senate, animals will no longer be permitted in the driver's seat.

The very idea reminds me of that cartoon where the police officer has just stopped a car for a traffic violation and approaches the driver's window. In the driver's seat: a dog. In the passenger seat: the dog's owner, who leans over and says, "Officer, I assure you, he's been on-leash the whole time."

The reasoning behind Maze's ban: safety. It's the same reasoning behind the cell-phone ban, the same reasoning behind seat-belt laws, the same reasoning behind child car seats.

There was nary a mom in the Golden State who didn't chime in on what a terrible mother Britney Spears was for tooling around Malibu with her small child in her lap. A dog and a child aren't that different when it comes to the guiding principles of physics. That child, that dog, that cat become projectile missiles if you have to stop on a dime — dangerous for them, dangerous for you, dangerous for other motorists.

Says Madeleine Bernstein, president of the Los Angeles SPCA, "They can cause an accident. They can impair your ability to react to an accident. They can distract you. And they can get hurt."

According to Maze, "If you've got a live animal, which you're not able to control, and that thing gets between you and the steering wheel or underneath your brake pedal, you've got a problem."

Which means everyone else on the road with you has a problem. As with drunken driving accidents, it's often the other drivers and passengers who suffer the consequences of an individual's reckless or careless decision making.

There will always be those who feel any intrusion of government on individual liberties is too much intrusion. And I agree that this should be a matter of common sense. But so should not getting behind the wheel of a car after chugging Red Bull and vodka. As Sandy Ettinger of Aptos told the Sacramento Bee, "I love dogs, I love being close to them. But when I'm in a car, pushing 3,000 pounds of metal at 60 miles an hour, I also like to keep my fellow motorists alive."

If only we could count on everyone being so considerate.


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.