If a civilian is driving a car towards a person who is a police officer, that is historically sufficient justification for the officer to apply the instant death penalty against the driver. Even if a driver is trying to drive around an officer to get away, the officer's perception (or even a claim to have that perception) that the driver tried to hit them with a vehicle is enough to justify an instant death penalty against the driver. Based on these cases (there are plenty of them!), it would seem like it's never legal or OK to drive at another person, or in a direction that could be interpreted as attempting to hit another person. Given the severe & instant punishment, it seems like this is not even close to the boundary (hence the bold "never").

When a civilian intentionally drives into a crowd (e.g. in Las Vegas, or Isla Vista, or SXSW) and people get hurt (even if nobody's killed), that's considered a severe violation of the law and serious charges follow. Even driving towards a crowd, before reaching it, can be enough to warrant fatally shooting a civilian driver. This generally supports the conclusion above.

However, when it's the police doing it, it's fine for them to intentionally drive straight into/through a crowd that has lawfully gathered in a city's Market Square to watch Independence Day municipal fireworks (while it's not OK for a civilian to drive into a crowd gathered to watch municipal fireworks elsewhere). Driving directly into a crowd with loud sirens and lights is apparently a good crowd dispersion technique. The press doesn't even cover it except as a closing footnote on another story, to emphasize how hard the police are working to keep citizens safe.

When the crowd is not just assembled but also protesting, it's apparently OK for even non-police drivers to drive directly into a crowd. Here's one example from Ferguson, where the driver cleared it with police and even got charges brought against the protesters for damaging her car. Here's another example from Ferguson. Where it's someone driving into a crowd of anti-Trump protesters, police just shrug and help out the driver, before arresting protesters for being in the way. A driver in that situation might apologize, but doesn't face charges.

The clearest rules I can figure out from this is that it's legal to drive at people when it's the police doing it or when the crowd is assembled for something that might fall under a First Amendment category as opposed to people just being in a busy place. However, I don't especially like that answer. In trying to find a stronger one, my own personal sense of ethics clearly has no bearing or relevance to this question. If it did, all of the latter examples (even the police car) would be in the "illegal" category along with the first ones. So, what does the law say? What's the legal rule? Where does that rule come from (i.e. law citations)?

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    Errrrr.... If the police car is on siren and lights, this indicated that they are performing public duty, so it is alright for them to drive in a legal public assembly. If the police car is not on siren or lights, or it is not on public duty, it would be illegal to drive into the crowd, as if it is a normal private car, and the driver will be prosecuted careless driving and/or with other liability. So “police doing it” won't be a justification to drive in public but a police car performing duty would be. (that's my insight) Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 7:19
  • As with lots of legal questions, there is probably a "reasonable man" test. In what circumstances would a reasonable man find it reasonable to drive towards a pedestrian? Are there any such circumstances? Sure they are, but they are probably rare (e.g., a cop performing official duties, genuine emergency requiring it, etc.)
    – Patrick87
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 13:39
  • @ThomasHung It appears from the examples linked to in the 4th paragraph that the test isn't about lights & sirens, but it might be about "public duty" where driving into an assembled crowd is considered public duty. Do you think that's the answer?
    – Burned
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 15:07
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    Downvoters & close voters, please consider explaining your votes if the main intention is to improve site quality. I tried hard to ask a good question about a legal issue I'm genuinely struggling to understand. I included lots of citations to what I'd already found when searching, tried to explain why the issue was still confusing even with that information, and it seems like the question is on-topic for this site. I even matched format w/other ?s. If this question is so failing to meet the standards on this site that it should be deleted, it'd be nice to know what those standards really are.
    – Burned
    Commented Jul 6, 2016 at 15:14
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    @Burned Your question fails to be even remotely reasonable because it uses emotionally charged language that obviously has no resemblance to actual law. Police officers cannot "apply the instant death penalty". Only a judge can apply a penalty, and the death penalty is never instant; in fact, it frequently takes decades of appeals and legal proceeding before anyone is executed by judicial process. Your first question is obviously about legal self-defense, but it's phrased in a very inflammatory way. There are some rotten apples among cops, but gross mis-characterization isn't the way forward. Commented Mar 1, 2017 at 2:59

1 Answer 1


Your question convolutes a number of different circumstances and legal questions.

  • When is a person justified in using deadly force against a driver? When the person can convince a prosecutor, judge, or jury that a reasonable person would consider it necessary to prevent grievous bodily harm (and other situation-dependent defenses – for more nuance see ).

  • When can a law enforcement officer assault people with his vehicle? When he his performing official duties, and is performing them in a manner reasonably consistent with his training and official obligations.

  • When can a driver assault people with his vehicle? When the driver can convince an inquiry that a reasonable person would consider it either not an act of assault, or else a justified act of self-defense.

  • When are pedestrians liable for collisions with vehicles? When they are obstructing or infringing a traffic right-of-way; or when a judicial inquiry determines that they are at fault. Pedestrians in such situations could also be cited for many other offenses (Disorderly Conduct, Jaywalking, etc.).

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