Reality may not be The Onion (yet), but it’s encroaching dangerously close on Curb your Enthusiasm.
An increasing number of drivers are illegally using HOV carpool lanes by stuffing mannequins, skeletons, even blowup sex dolls and various other items into their cars to try and fool police into thinking that they have a passenger when they don’t. The practice has reached a fever pitch, according to the Wall Street Journal.
So now, police are fighting back by shaming those who are caught committing the illegal act on social media. New York, California and Florida have all created dedicated police units to patrol HOV lanes for cars with dummy passengers. Washington state is weighing a bill to raise penalties for HOV lane abuse, while other police departments are simply shaming transgressors to discourage others.
Meanwhile, drivers are evolving and getting more creative with the way that they try to cheat the rules. This has led to state troopers calling it “absolutely satisfying” when they do catch somebody breaking the law.
Suffolk County Highway Patrol Deputy Inspector David Regina said: “There’s nothing to say you can’t have a mannequin in your passenger seat, but if you’re skirting the rules and breaking the law, it becomes an issue.”
The California Highway Patrol recently shamed a man who was caught in Oakland with two fake passengers in his car. “Clever Carpool offender caught cheating system with TWO dummies in back seat. Clever officer checked both dummies’ pulse to make sure!” they wrote on Twitter.
In Arizona, drivers can actually wind up with points on their license for faking passengers. State police spokesman Bart Graves said: “It happens all the time. We are perplexed as to why people would take those chances and think they can get away with it.”
He continued: “The dummies run the gamut. Some are fairly creative, but most are not. Most people move in a car, they talk. When someone is sitting motionless, that’s one indication. In a case in April, the trooper knew something was off with the passenger.”
The police in Arizona patrol carpool lanes the most during morning and afternoon rush hours. When they catch someone, they post online. “Another one Busted!” they wrote on Twitter with a photo of a female mannequin with a dark wig, sunglasses, a red hat and blue hoodie.
The cost of a life-sized dummy – generally used for things like front yard Santas or Halloween costumes – is about $50 plus shipping on Amazon. One Amazon vendor got wise and actually started offering a product called “Carpool Kenny” which was an inflatable torso, akin to the “Autopilot” from the Airplane movies.
“He’s never talking, always on time, and likes my music,” one review of the product said. “He never complains when I put him in the trunk,” another said.
Barry Kowitt, a Florida lawyer who often represents traffic scofflaws, said he tries to get clients off on technicalities: “Sometimes these people are so mortified and embarrassed that they just pay the fine.”
Washington State Sen. Marko Liias introduced a bill to raise fines by $200 “where a dummy, doll, or other human facsimile is used,” raising that price to $686 for repeat offenders. The national average is around $400.
Said one driver caught on the Long Island expressway, “I have a big sense of humor. The whole thing is funny, but I feel humiliated. I don’t want any more trouble.”