“Frightened Animals” and the Motor Vehicle Code

Written by Gregory Monte.

In doing research for yesterday’s blog post about “road hogs,” I discovered a section of Wisconsin’s motor vehicle code which struck me as odd – to say the least.  Chapter 346, Section 11 describes a driver’s obligation when passing or meeting a “frightened animal:”

“Whenever a person riding, driving or leading an animal which is frightened gives a signal of distress to the operator of a motor vehicle by a raising of the hand or otherwise, the operator of the motor vehicle shall promptly stop the vehicle … until such animal is under control.”

When I looked a bit deeper, I realized that other states have similar language.  Here are three additional examples (there may be others):

California’s Vehicle Code, Article 3, Section 21759:

“The driver of any vehicle approaching any horse drawn vehicle, any ridden animal, or any livestock shall exercise proper control of his vehicle and shall reduce speed or stop as may appear necessary or as may be signalled or otherwise requested by any person driving, riding or in charge of the animal or livestock …”

Maine’s Title 29-A, Chapter 19, Section 2055.3:

“Frightened animals. When a person riding, driving or leading an animal that appears to be frightened signals by putting up a hand or by other visible sign, an operator approaching from the opposite direction must stop as soon as possible and remain stationary as long as necessary and reasonable to allow the animal to pass.”

Florida’s Title XXIII, Chapter 316.09825:

“Vehicle approaching an animal.Every person operating a motor vehicle shall use reasonable care when approaching or passing a person who is riding or leading an animal upon a roadway or the shoulder thereof, and shall not intentionally startle or injure such an animal. A violation of this section is a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.”

Although you probably won’t be approaching a horse very often (as per the California law), notice that both the Wisconsin and Maine statutes would also apply to someone walking his dog. You legally have to stop your car if the person leading the animal signals as much. Florida’s statute would also apply to dogs, but is more mild because you can only get a ticket if you “intentionally startle or injure” the animal.

These statutes make sense to a certain degree, but I wonder how many drivers realize that this is actually the “law of the land” in certain places in our country.

As to why legislatures decided to include this kind of animal protection in the first place, it turns out that these laws go way back to the time when automobiles were first starting to gain some popularity in the early 20th century.  I found an interesting book called The Law of Automobiles published in 1909 by Claude Perrin Berry (1877-1958).  From what I can tell, he attempted to compile every single law, legal argument and court case related to vehicles in this 1,300+ page tome.

He relates one story in that book which makes reference to the laws mentioned in this blog post:

“In a criminal prosecution for alleged violation of a statute requiring the driver of an automobile to, ‘on signal by raising the hand, from a person riding, leading or driving a horse or horses or other animals, bring such motor vehicle immediately to a stop …’”

Clearly, these “frightened animal” laws are anachronisms from the early days of driving.  I don’t imagine that they are ever enforced these days.  In fact, when I searched all state courts using Google Scholar, I only got 10 results, none of which were related to these statutes.

One final point. I found out that several states originally had these laws but subsequently removed them from their codes:


North Carolina

Washington State


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