Yesterday I was passed by a poodle.

While driving down a major thoroughfare I glanced over to see a very large dog behind the wheel of a car zooming past me. At least that's what it looked like.

The lady actually driving the vehicle was one of those misguided individuals who thinks there's nothing wrong with hoisting their pet puppy onto their laps so the animal can hang their head out the window.

Unfortunately, you see this all too often in the Lowcountry -- people driving along with large and small dogs occupying the space between the driver and the steering wheel that is reserved for reaction time and quick maneuvering.

They think it's cute. I think it's dangerous.

And I'm not alone.

Against the law

Major John Clark of the Charleston County Sheriff's Office just moaned when I brought up this touchy subject.

So, is it against the law to drive with an animal in your lap?

"Anything that interferes with the control and safety of a vehicle and takes the driver's attention away from the road is against the law," Clark said.

But you seldom, if ever, see anyone getting pulled over for this insidious disregard for the safety of others.

What if a Labrador suddenly tries to leap out of the car, or a bird dog spots a covey of quail, or a Jack Russell starts getting jumpy, or a cocker spaniel is spooked by a tom cat?

Do these otherwise perfectly normal people really believe they can maintain control of their vehicle if and when a large, over-excited animal is jumping around in their lap?

The dangers, when you think about it, are obvious. And yet, police have many more pressing problems to deal with than pets behind the wheel.

"We don't always pull them over," Clark said with a sigh. "It's one of those laws that's not always enforced. It's at the discretion of the officer."

Right and wrong

Granted, most of these offenders are beautiful people with lovely pets that look adorable when they lean out of the window and let the wind ruffle their fur.

This behavior is clearly driven by the owners' love and affection for their dogs, their desire to please the animal, and their complete lack of common sense.

"There's no way you can safely control that vehicle and protect yourself and your animal if you're in busy traffic," Clark said.

If, however, a cop does see your Yorkie driving the family car, what could you be charged with?

Clark said an officer could charge the driver with careless operation, which carries a fine between $137 and $440, but no points against your driver's license.

So what happens when he pulls up next to a car with a Great Dane behind the wheel?

"I give them a look, and most people hide their dog," Clark said. "People know when they're doing something wrong."

Reach Ken Burger at 937-5598 or on Twitter at @Ken_Burger .