Dear Animal Legal & Historical Center,
I was driving down a rural highway and saw a dog riding in the back of a pickup truck. This seems like a dangerous practice. Is it legal?
On the road again
Dear On the Road Again,
Thank you for writing to our digital law library. As with many legal questions, the answer depends mostly on where you live. Only a handful of states have laws that expressly prohibit dogs from riding unrestrained in the back of pickup trucks.
Most state laws that address the issue make it illegal to transport a dog on a public road in the back of an open bed vehicle. This likely mean that any travel on a private road or driveway with a dog in the bed of a truck would not be outlawed in these states. As of 2019, it appears that only six states (CA, CT, ME, MA, NH, and RI) have such laws.
Maine prohibits transporting a dog in an open vehicle like a pick-up truck or convertible in a manner that does not protect the dog:
[a] person driving an open vehicle may not transport a dog in the open portion of that vehicle on a public way unless the dog is protected in a manner that prevents the dog from falling or jumping or being thrown from the vehicle.
The law excludes transportation of a dog by a farmer engaged in agricultural activities involving the dog or a hunting dog that is between transported between hunting sites by a licensed hunter.
Connecticut prohibits dogs in the back of pickups unless the dog is caged and secured:
No person operating a pick-up truck, as defined in section 14-1, on a public highway of this state shall transport a dog in the open rearward compartment of the pick-up truck unless the dog is secured in a cage or other container or otherwise protected or secured in such a manner as to prevent the dog from being thrown or falling or jumping from the pick-up truck.
New Hampshire adds a requirement that the vehicle's side extend to a height of at least 46 inches vertically (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 644:8-f). In addition to that, the dog must be cross-tethered, and protected in a secured container, cage or other form of protection from jumping or falling out.
California's law is nearly identical in its requirements to New Hampshire. That state's law also has exceptions for the transportation of livestock, the transport of a dog in a rural area to and from a livestock auction, and the transport of a dog for purposes associated with ranching or farming (West's Ann.Cal.Vehicle Code § 23117).
Massachusetts extends its law to all animals instead of just dogs:
No person shall transport an animal in the back of a motor vehicle in a space intended for a load on the vehicle on a public way unless such space is enclosed or has side and tail racks to a height of at least 46 inches extending vertically from the floor, the animal is cross tethered to the vehicle, the animal is protected by a secured container or cage or the animal is otherwise protected in a manner which will prevent the animal from being thrown or from falling or jumping from the vehicle.
Violation of the law only results in a fine of not less than $50 (M.G.L.A. 90 § 22H).
Similarly, Rhode Island covers all animals, and refers more generally to "open air motor vehicles." Like other states, this conveyance is allowed if certain requirements are met:
[T]he animal or animals being transported:
(1) Is kept in an enclosed area of the motor vehicle;
(2) The animal or animals are under the physical control of a person other than the operator of the motor vehicle; or
(2) The animal or animals are placed in the motor vehicle and safely restrained by a harness manufactured for the purpose of restraining animals by means other than neck restraints.
Gen. Laws, 1956, § 31-22-28. Violation of the law incurs a maximum fine of $50 like Massachusetts, but each subsequent offense has an enhanced fine of up to $200.
Other types of laws may also apply to the transport of animals in open-bed trucks. In Washington, it is unlawful to "transport any living animal on the running board, fenders, hood, or other outside part of any vehicle unless suitable harness, cage or enclosure be provided and so attached as to protect such animal from falling or being thrown therefrom." West's RCWA 46.61.660. This law deals more with strapping a live animal to outside portions of vehicles, so it is unclear in the application to open truck beds.
Oregon has a very similar law to Washington that makes it a Class D traffic violation to carry an animal in such a manner (O.R.S. § 811.200). Proposed 2017 amendments to this law (HB 3044) would include transport in an open truck bed in the prohibitions. Such transport would only be legal if the truck sides were sufficiently high (like CT and CA) and the animal was secured similar to other states.
Finally, the transportation of any animal might fall within a state's animal anti-cruelty law. In fact, some states have what can be called "cruel transport laws," like Mississippi, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. Some of these laws were enacted decades ago and likely were intended to deal with the cruel transportation of farm animals. However, the language of these laws may be broad enough to cover the unsafe transport of dogs in pickup truck beds (except for Mississippi, which excludes dogs and cats). The question would be whether law enforcement and prosecutors would issue that anti-cruelty charge. In addition to cruel transport/carrying laws, a loose animal could fall within other traffic infractions if it posed an overall danger to other drivers on the road.
You may also be surprised to know that Hawaii has a law concerning dogs on driver's laps:
While operating a motor vehicle, no person shall hold in the person's lap, or allow to be in the driver's immediate area, any person, animal, or object which interferes with the driver's control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.
Now you can be on the lookout for dogs in pickup truck beds in the states mentioned as well as those on laps in Hawaii!
Thanks again for your question,
Rebecca F. Wisch
Animal Legal & Historical Center