Life-sized dolls and mannequins don’t help you in the carpool lane

Q: On the Road received this funny query from a reader who said she’s heard people joke about drivers using blow-up dolls, mannequins or even stuffed animals to ride in their cars so the drivers can cheat and use the car-pool lanes. Our reader asked if drivers really do this and if so, if we would share some of the experiences law enforcement officers have had with this situation.

A: Yep, some drivers have actually placed fake “people” in their cars so they could drive solo in carpool lanes and hopefully not get caught. Who knows how many traffic scofflaws have gotten away with this, but some have been caught, and not just in California.

California Highway Patrol officers in Baldwin Park caught a driver in the carpool lane on the 210 Freeway in Glendora with a mannequin in the car in 2021. The Baldwin Park CHP posted this note on their Facebook page on Feb. 24, 2021, along with a photo of the cleverly disguised mannequin: “By far, one of the best dummies we have ever seen. To clarify, we are referring to this fake passenger. At least he was following CDC guidelines by wearing his face mask. Nice try, driver. Here’s your ticket.”

News reports said the CHP officer saw the passenger was not moving and pulled over the driver for a tinted window violation. The realistic-looking mannequin was propped up in the vehicle with a seatbelt and was dressed in a plaid shirt, glasses and a baseball cap.

This happened in Northern California too. Oakland CHP officers on March 7, 2019 made a Facebook post that said, “Don’t Be a Dummy & follow the rules!” Oakland CHP said a driver had two dummies in the back seat. The CHP towed the vehicle because the driver had a suspended license. “Blow-up dolls, dummies, pets, infants inside wombs, and ghosts don’t count as passengers while in HOV/Carpool lane!” the Oakland CHP wrote in its post, adding some hashtags as well.

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California drivers aren’t the only ones pulling this stunt.

In 2020, officers in Tempe, Arizona ticketed a driver after an officer saw a fake skeleton wearing a camouflage hat sitting in the front passenger seat. It was held upright with rope. “Think you can use the HOV lane with a Skeletor riding shotgun? You’re dead wrong!” the Arizona Department of Public Safety wrote on Facebook on Jan. 23, 2020. Also in Arizona, officers caught another driver in December 2022 in the carpool lane with an inflatable Grinch in the passenger seat. (You can’t make this stuff up. Google this incident to see the photo of the grinning green fake passenger.)

And in Washington in 2015, a patrol officer tweeted a photo of what news reports called a “child-sized zombie doll” that had been buckled into the front seat of the car by a driver caught solo in the carpool lane near Tacoma. That driver received a carpool violation ticket, too.

It remains to be seen what these carpool lane scofflaws will think of next.

Do you commute to work in the Inland Empire? Spend a lot of time in your vehicle? Have questions about driving, freeways, toll roads or parking? If so, write or call On the Road and we’ll try to answer your questions. Please include your question or issue, name, city of residence, phone number and email address. Write or call 951-368-9670.

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