Can I Use the Carpool Lane If I Have a Prisoner?

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The chapter on the law of carpooling that I'm planning to include in my next book is coming along nicely now. It'll be more interesting that it sounds, I think. Some time ago we learned that the argument "but I am pregnant" is probably not a valid defense if you get a ticket for using the HOV lane. More recently we learned that even after the Citizens United case, an HOV-lane ticket also can't be avoided by pointing to the corporate papers you have been keeping in your front seat for years in hopes of doing just that (arguing that a corporation must be a "person" in that sense too, you see). Now, the trifecta.

According to various reports (thanks, Mark), a 26-year-old New Jersey man was arrested last week after an officer stopped him on (or near) the George Washington Bridge because he was in the HOV lane and appeared to be alone in the vehicle. Turned out he had a perfectly good defense to that charge. "I have two passengers in the back," he told the officer, and rolled down the back (presumably tinted) window so the officer could see. Indeed there were two men sitting in the third row of the SUV's seats. So, no HOV violation there, and obviously the officer agreed because the report says that the man then "started to drive away."

The officer changed her mind, though, when one of the passengers stuck his head out of the window and yelled "Help me!"

Well, she didn't change her mind about the HOV ticket, actually, just took a different view of the whole situation.

The passengers later told police that they were illegal aliens (sorry, "temporarily document-challenged guests of the nation") who had paid the driver for a ride. One of the men, a Guatemalan, said he had paid the driver to pick him up in Texas and drive him to Maryland. Once they arrived, though, the driver locked the doors and demanded more money. (Police found that the rear-passenger controls had been disabled.) When he couldn't pay, the driver refused to let him out, took his cellphone, and kept driving. The other man, described only as "a 24-year-old Asian," told officials he was also being held prisoner, but there were no details as to his pickup or drop-off requests.

The driver has been charged with two counts each of kidnapping and criminal restraint, as well as driving with a suspended license, and is being held in New Jersey on $1 million bail.

So far as I can tell, though, he did not get a ticket for improper use of the HOV lane. Still, not a strategy I would recommend, given the other potential issues.