California state lawmakers are considering banning drivers from carrying “live animals” on their laps behind the wheel, one of several new measures that would regulate who can drive, when, where and how.

“It’s just nuts, the stuff legislators come up with instead of dealing with the real problems facing the state: crime, the economy, the . . . budget deficit,” Dick Messer, director of the Petersen Automotive Museum, told the Los Angeles Times (LAT). His own small dog is a regular rider on his lap as he commutes to work.

One lawmaker wants to restrict driving by truants and high school drop-outs. Another would regulate where global positioning system devices (sat navs) can be installed. Another wants a new state committee to study the danger that silent-running electric cars pose to blind pedestrians, the LAT added (see link below).

The paper said these new ideas follow new laws banning computer and cellphone (mobile phone) use by teenagers while driving, restricting adult drivers to hands-free cellphones, and barring smoking in cars when minors are present.

The blitz of existing and proposed laws regulating use of the automobile, symbol of freedom, has Messer and other Californians pounding on their steering wheels, the LAT said.

“They want to button down our mobility,”  Messer, 67, who understands the lure and lore of the car, told the paper. He reportedly owns 24, including a 1939 Plymouth and a new natural-gas-powered Honda, and oversees 300 other vehicles at the museum.

“They want to force you into public transportation,” he said. “The problem is, we don’t have any.”

Los Angeles itself does have a complex bus system and a new subway train network (as does the San Francisco/Oakland region) but, although a worker from Pasadena north east of LA can commute to an office downtown, the  Red Line that heads west from the city through Hollywood stops well short of popular Westside residential areas like Santa Monica.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there are 33.5m registered vehicles in California and state assemblyman Bob Huff, a Republican from Diamond Bar, east of LA, said that explained the cornucopia of car-related legislation.

“We’re a state that gets around by car. We are a car culture,” Huff, a member of the assembly’s transportation committee, told the LAT. “Couple that with legislators who think government is the answer to everything, and you end up with the perfect storm.”

Assemblyman Bill Maze (also a Republican, from Visalia) told the paper he introduced the bill against lap dogs after a car passed him with two large canines hanging out a window and a third in the driver’s lap.

“It’s a very dangerous thing for the drivers and others,” Maze said. “It’s a distraction.”

Maze is unfazed by national radio personality Rush Limbaugh’s derision of his measure. “Talk about the land of fruits and nuts,” Limbaugh was reported to have told listeners recently.

And Maze doesn’t care that other critics have ridiculed the measure as the ‘Paris Hilton bill’, after the ‘celebrity’ who often totes a tiny dog with her. “I don’t know anything about her,” he told the LAT.

The paper said there were at least 128 accidents in the state last year in which a factor was inattention caused by animals in the vehicle, according to the California Highway Patrol. They included one fatality and 68 injuries.

Maze noted that a crash last month in Modesto involved a woman driving with her cat. “It scratched her in the face and she went out of control and hit a power pole,” he said.

Under Maze’s bill, drivers caught with a pet in their lap would face fines ranging from US$35 to nearly $150, the report said.

A number of Maze’s colleagues have sided with him on the issue, The assembly passed his measure and sent it to the state senate for consideration, the Los Angeles Times added.

Blind concerned about ‘silent’ hybrids