Dogs Object to Bill Making It Illegal to Stick Their Heads Out of Car Windows

Civil disobedience

Lots of ridiculous laws being proposed lately (see, e.g., “Bill Would Establish Official State Aroma” (Feb. 15, 2023); “Montana Bill Would Ban Teaching Science” (Feb. 10, 2023)), but that just means state legislatures are back in session. Florida’s new SB 932, which addresses a variety of “animal welfare” issues, is mostly fine. But my dog was outraged to hear that his brethren and sistren in Florida would, if this bill became law, be legally prohibited from sticking their heads out the window of a car.

Well, he pooped right after I told him about this, and he sometimes does that if he’s outraged about new legislation. I assume the two events are connected here.

SB 932, filed on Feb. 17 by Florida Sen. Lauren Book, seems okay for the most part, at least to me. For example, it would prohibit using animals to test cosmetics (with limited exceptions), declawing cats, and tethering a dog (or cat) outdoors during a hurricane (or similar event). That last one might already be covered by the more general animal-cruelty statute, but I don’t have a problem with making it explicit.

Similarly, most of proposed section 316.20045 (Transportation of dogs in motor vehicles) seems okay. I agree that a person should not, for example, “ride with a dog positioned in front of him or her while the person is operating a motorcycle on a public roadway,” something people in Florida are apparently doing. (Obviously, the only proper way to transport a dog by motorcycle is to give him a pair of funny goggles and strap him into a sidecar with flames or a shark mouth painted on the front. The bill doesn’t specifically mandate this, but I assume that’s the intent.) Similarly, whoever is transporting dogs “on the running board, fender, hood, or roof of a motor vehicle,” cut it out, please. So I have no objection to those.

But then there’s section 316.20045(1)(c), which makes it illegal to “allow a dog to extend its head or any other body part outside a motor vehicle window while the person is operating the motor vehicle on a public roadway.”

This aggression will not stand.

One report on the bill cited a pet-travel blog whose authors take the position that canine head extrusion is “a very dangerous habit” that should not be indulged. It exposes the dog’s eyes to “dirt, rocks, dust and other debris,” they write, a risk too great to be tolerated:

In the early days of automobiles, most cars did not have windshields and their top speed was approximately 45 mph. Given those conditions, drivers wore goggles to protect their eyes. Now that we have windshields to protect us, you wouldn’t consider sticking your unprotected head out the window at 45 mph. Then why let your dog?

Well, I probably wouldn’t do that at 45 mph, although part of my reluctance stems from having seen Hereditary, and if what this implies about the movie creeps you out, I very strongly recommend that you do not see Hereditary. But I would absolutely consider it (for me or my dog) at lower speeds, and the bill as drafted applies regardless of speed. As for the risk to a dog’s eyes from traveling even at 45 mph, I would point out that there are dogs capable of running that fast (and other animals that run even faster), and their eyeballs seem to have coped even without the funny goggles humans only recently invented for them. So I’m not overly concerned about that.

I am even less concerned about the possibility of “trauma” due to “constant and rapid flapping of the pinnae [earflaps] against your dog’s head from high-speed winds,” which the blog also cites as a risk. Even if that were a real thing, a leather cap to go with the dog’s funny goggles would take care of it. But is it? I’m not letting him stick his head out of my private jet, just while driving around the neighborhood. His pinnae seem fine to me.

Some sort of dog-restraint device seems like a good idea, to keep him from jumping or falling out of the window. Fine. But as it stands, the Florida bill goes too far.

And it looks like this particular provision is DOA in any event. On Wednesday, Sen. Book told Car and Driver (which had reached out for comment on this car-and-driver-related issue) that she has three dogs who all love sticking their heads out the window of her motor vehicle, almost certainly while she is operating said vehicle on a public roadway. She described the window provision as “only one piece of a complete proposed overhaul of the state’s animal welfare system as brought to me by veterinarians and advocates,” which seems to both blame veterinarians and advocates for it and admit she didn’t read the bill before sponsoring it. “We can easily amend this piece out of the bill while protecting the intent” of those who proposed the legislation, she said, “and we will.”

A related “animal welfare” bill was also introduced in the Florida House, but it only includes the ban on testing cosmetics. My dog is fine with that.