Can a Pregnant Woman Legally Drive In the Carpool Lane?

Most carpool or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes across the country are intended for cars with two or more passengers in them. That means that you must have at least one other person with you when you’re driving in order to use the specialized lane. But what if you’re pregnant, does the unborn fetus count as a second occupant?

Driving in the carpool lane while pregnant

Pregnant woman driving with seatbelt.
A pregnant woman driving with a seatbelt. | Bildquelle/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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In short, no, a pregnant woman cannot count her unborn baby as a separate passenger. According to the laws in California, the CHP states that “California law requires that in order to utilize the HOV lane, there must be two (or, if posted, three) separate individuals occupying seats in the vehicle. Until your ‘passenger’ is capable of riding in his or her own seat, you cannot count them.”

California isn’t the only state with this law in place. In fact, there have been court cases in other states where the same law was upheld and the plaintiffs in the cases ended up losing them.

The famous case of Candace Dickinson

A pregnant lady drives her car.
A pregnant lady drives her car. | Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

According to True Commuter, one of the most famous cases where a pregnant woman fought a carpooling ticket was that of Candace Dickinson from Arizona. In November 2005, Dickinson – a 23-year-old pregnant woman that was weeks away from giving birth – fought a $383 fine in court stating that her unborn child counted as a passenger.

The officer that pulled Dickinson over and issued her the ticket, Sgt. Dave Norton, told CBC, that her argument “would require officers to carry guns, radios, and pregnancy testers, and I don’t think we want to go there.” Apparently, the judge in the case agreed and ruled that the unborn fetus did not count as a passenger, since a “passenger” needs to be a separate occupant in the vehicle.

Sue Ann Yasger ended up winning her case

Another case, which happened in 1987, involved Sue Ann Yasger, a California woman who was five months pregnant. As the L.A. Times reported, the judge ended up dismissing her $52 fine stating that it was in “the interest of justice.” A few months later, another pregnant woman named Diane Correl was given a ticket for the same reason. She showed the judge a newspaper article about Yasger’s case and the judge dropped the ticket.

Fetuses don’t count as passengers when you drive

A police officer pulls a solo driver over for driving in the carpool lane.
A police officer pulls a solo driver over for driving in the carpool lane. | Don Bartletti/The LA Times

Ultimately, while philosophy may state that a growing fetus is technically a person and therefore a passenger, that’s not the case in the eyes of the law. A passenger is generally defined as a separate person that can occupy another seat in the same car. Also, if one were to consider a fetus a separate person, then it would technically be breaking the law that two people can’t occupy the driver’s seat at the same time.

In either case, if you’re pregnant and want to drive in the carpool lane, then make sure that you have a separate passenger occupying a different seat in the car. Otherwise, you could be paying a hefty fine.

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