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article imageHouston man uses dummy to drive in high-occupancy lane

By Nikki Weingartner     Jul 17, 2009 in Crime
How far would you go to drive in the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane? Apparently pretty far for some. In Houston, Texas, see why one local man believed to have caused an accident and major backup on the city's roadway was ticketed.
Life in the fast lane is one of those choices that so many city inhabitants choose. With tight schedules, long commutes and congested highways, it's no wonder that stress can lead to risky and behaviour factor. In order to ease some of that congestion, man cities have added High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (HOV) to some of the more traffic-ridden areas, thereby promoting carpooling and giving priority to those who travel in groups of two or more.
From Atlanta, GA all the way to Canada and even on the islands of Hawaii, HOV lanes are found across the international highways and byways. But how far will folks go to be a part of the HOV group? Lets just say that some people tend to be real dummies about it.
In Houston, TX a chain-reaction accident on U.S.Highway 290 near the city's Beltway caused a massive delay for morning commuters. The HOV lane accident sent one person to the hospital for non-life threatening injuries after a Toyota pickup truck rear ended another vehicle, causing a domino effect involving four vehicles. When police arrived on scene, they found the passenger, dressed in business attire, in the Toyota pickup unresponsive and slumped over.
The passenger turned out to be a mannequin.
The driver of the Toyota, Mike Hooper, a 54-year-old Information Technology Consultant in the area, was ticketed for speeding and unauthorized use of the HOV lane, a fine that can reach up to $200. Hooper was believed to be the driver accused of causing the pile up.
Although HOV lane restrictions vary from state to state, Houston, TX requires a minimum of two living, breathing individuals.
Houston police confiscate approximately one "fake person" from drivers each month using the HOV lane. From the more common fake male to baby dolls strapped into car seats, rule breakers far and wide go to great lengths to drive in the esteemed HOV lane. Drivers are very creative in an attempt to avoid a fine, with police saying they even hear the excuse that they {drivers} believed an infant in the womb counts as a second passenger. Last year, over 4,500 tickets were issued in Houston for unauthorized use of the HOV lane.
According to snopes, in Phoenix, Arizona in 2006, a woman received a nearly $400 US fine for driving alone in the HOV lane. Her attempts to fight the ticket proved futile and stirred some debate over when exactly life begins, drawing support from the Arizona Right to Life group.
In California, a question and answer page on the CHP site reveals just how common this belief can be:
I'm pregnant. The HOV lane requires two persons in a vehicle. Now that I'm eating for two, can I use this lane?
California law requires that in order to utilize the HOV lane, there must be two (or, if posted, three) separate individuals occupying seats in a vehicle. Until your "passenger" is capable of riding in his or her own seat, you cannot count them.
Drivers use methods including reclining the passenger seat and pretending to talk to an invisible person, taping wigs to the headrest, lone hearse drivers transporting the dead and even buckling in the family dog all at the risk of receiving a hefty fine and possibly hurting others.
In 2002, a woman and her very dumb passenger dressed in high-end angora suddenly veered into a Washington state HOV lane, cutting off a school bus full of children and causing a chain reaction pileup that landed more than a dozen victims being taken to hospitals for injuries, many of whom were kids on a school trip. She wanted to cut time off of her morning commute. That same year, WA police issued over 8,500 tickets and 3,100 warnings for unauthorized HOV use.
In the Houston case, Hooper denied that he was using Mr. Mannequin for the purpose of HOV access, stating in the Houston Chron:
“I was not using him for that purpose. I was transporting him somewhere. He was in the front seat.”
However, he refused to disclose the final destination or the events that led up to the crash.
It's just a matter of time before "Wilson" the volleyball shows up in true form!
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