Doggone dangerous? Pet owner ticketed for driving with elderly Shih Tzu on lap

A Winnipeg pet owner is fighting a ticket for driving with his dog sitting on his lap.

Ed Ledohowski says he had no idea dog's preferred sitting spot violated Highway Traffic Act

Ed Ledohowski believes he can operate his car safely with his Shih Tzu, Bailey, on his lap. He was fined Oct. 19 when a police officer determined the dog could obstruct the steering wheel or jump up and cause an accident. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Bailey might be deaf in one ear and blind in one eye but he understands full well when it's time for a drive. His tail wags, his pink tongue sticks out and he gets excited like a puppy.

The black-and-white Shih Tzu is 15 years old (making him a senior in dog years) who loves going for car rides, especially if he gets some time in the driver's seat — on his owner's lap, that is.

But according to Manitoba traffic rules — and a ticket Bailey's owner recently got — that's a no-no.

Owner Ed Ledohowski says one of Bailey's favourite spots is snuggling between his left arm and the driver-side door — that way, the pooch gets a good sniff out the window.

"I just thought if he's sitting here quietly, not bothering me, where's the problem?"

The problem turns out to be in Manitoba's Highway Traffic Act, Section 182 (1) a, which makes it an offence to drive if "the control of the driver over the driving mechanism of the vehicle … is obstructed or limited by reason of the load or the number of persons on the front seat, or in any other part of the vehicle."
Bailey weighs about 10 pounds and is 15 years old — making him a senior in dog years. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Earlier this month, a police officer pulled Ledohowski over on Meadowood Drive in Winnipeg because he believed the dog on the driver's lap was obstructing the steering wheel. He said Bailey could technically jump up and cause an accident. 

Ledohowski was fined $110 and could possibly receive demerits on his licence.

While he does not deny Bailey was riding in the front seat, Ledohowski says calling that risky driving is barking mad. He plans to plead guilty with an explanation next month.

"I thought this was a little bit much, particularly because the window was closed, he wasn't bothering. I was in full control of the car."

So far this year, Winnipeg police say they have issued 36 fines for this type of infraction. It's not just pets that are caught potentially obstructing the steering wheel — drivers can be fined for having other humans sitting on their lap, as well as boxes or anything else that might prevent them from driving safely.

It's up to police to make that call.

"The officer would have to feel that the animal — dog, cat, whatever it is — is interfering with the person's ability to drive the vehicle," said Winnipeg police Staff Sgt. Rob Riffel.

"[A driver] needs to be in control of their vehicle at all times. If their dog is in their lap, moving around, they're not really in control of their vehicle."

Ledohowski has reservations about denying Bailey his spot by the window, but said he will try to comply with the rule, especially on busy streets.

"Now that he's got two years left I don't want to tell him he can't do this anymore."

Riffel says pet owners can lower the risk of being fined by keeping their dogs in the passenger seat, the back seat or in a kennel in the car.

The black-and-white Shih Tzu is 15 years old (making him a senior in dog years) who loves going for car rides, especially if he gets some time in the driver's seat — on his owner's lap, that is. But according to Manitoba traffic rules — and a ticket Bailey's owner recently got — that's a no-no. 1:48