There are always grey areas in the law

A driver of a minivan in Nevada was pulled over by police because he was alone in a lane reserved for high-occupancy vehicles that require at least one extra person. His justification? He worked for a funeral parlor and he had a corpse in the cargo area in the back. While the police officer let him off with a warning, it appears that it is not at all clear if a dead body meets the requirement.

Nevada’s HOV rules do not clarify whether an occupant must be breathing and leans on federal law, which is not much clearer.

An official with the Federal Highway Administration said it is up to individual states to define what an occupant is – and referred the USA Today Network to the Nevada Department of Transportation for additional information.

The undercover hearse driver pulled over in Las Vegas Monday assumed the body in the back counted toward the two or more occupant requirement for the lane – but Nevada Highway Patrol says passengers must be alive and breathing in order to be counted.

“When you talk about high occupancy vehicle lanes, you’re talking about seats – so a person would need to occupy a seat to qualify,” said Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Buratczuk. “This person was obviously a decedent and in the cargo area of the car, so they would not qualify for the HOV lane.”

There seems to be a general rule that you can never make a law that covers all contingencies. New cases will always arise that fall in the grey areas.

Via David Pescovitz.)


  1. Bruce says

    The obvious purpose of HOV lanes is to improve traffic flow by incentivizing things such as carpooling, where two people sharing a ride gives an alternative to having two separate vehicles for them. So the test should be if an alternative would have been two separate vehicles. In this case, the corpse cargo needed a driver, but the driver didn’t need to be on the road except to move the corpse. There is no scenario where the corpse would take a taxi and the diver would drive to or from the mortuary alone just for fun. So he shouldn’t use the HOV lane.
    In the same way, a mother with a two year old kid shouldn’t claim HOV privileges because she’d never send the two year old off alone in a taxi, while she went somewhere else. However, a mother driving a six year old to school and doing errands on the way back should use the HOV lane, because if the mother rode alone to errands, it is conceivable she might have put the six year old in a taxi to school. The key is if the other person in the car could have an independent agenda and destination. Thus all flows from the purpose of a HOV lane.

  2. file thirteen says

    Oh for goodness sake; a corpse is not an occupant. A dead person does not count as a stand-in for a live person.

    @larpar, I don’t care if you strap your double-bass into the passenger seat, it doesn’t privilege you to drive in the HOV lane.

  3. says

    HOV lanes are just another scheme to increase revenue for the State by issuing tickets for bullshit “infractions”.

    Now, if it were a *dedicated lane* for busses or for emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambo), that’d make sense!

    Also, two is not “high occupancy” by any measure, unless we’re talking about a twin bed, then two is too many.

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    I know there was a case here in Toronto where a woman tried to claim that because she was pregnant, the fetus should count as the second person in the car for the HOV lane. She didn’t get very far with that.

    In the more general case, yes, it’s true that you cannot write a law that will cover all possible cases. At least, not if you want it to actually do the ‘right’ thing in all those cases. Any enumerable set of rules will result in people who actively try to figure out ways to work exactly within the rules while twisting them against their intended purpose.

    You could make a good case that this is one of the advantages of the Common Law system, in that the system of precedents allows for minor tweaks to the boundary conditions of a set law on the fly. (Which, admittedly, rests on the assumption that the judges actually care about the best interests of society as a whole.)

  5. Jazzlet says

    Jenora Feuer
    That would be a good one to pull in states that are insisting fetuses are people, after all if it’s a person it ought to be counted for HOV lanes Bruce’s definition not withstanding.

  6. mediagoras says

    There are certainly gaps and gray ares in any code of laws. Depending on the circumstances, this can be a strength (flexibility) and/or a weakness (uncertainty) in the common law system. However, I think that a common sense interpretation/application of the rule in this case could resolve the issue.

    If the purpose of HOV lanes and rules is to encourage efficiency and reduce traffic (see, then the decedent-as-occupant does not serve this purpose and, therefore, should not be acceptable under the rules. The decedent is likely making only that one trip and, had it not been “riding” in the minivan, could not have independently driven a single occupant vehicle. The decedent-as-occupant creates no efficiency and does not reduce traffic.

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