I recently read about protests blocking an interstate. I feel like ethically no one no (non-police) citizen has the right to obstruct my travel (on a public interstate for the sake of protest), therefore I'm interested to know if I personally have any legal route to retaliate against the individuals stopping my travel (exercising their rights at the expense of mine).

Just because I think I should have the right to slowly push through a crowd unlawfully impeding my travel, doesn't make it the law, unfortunately. But that's why we have laws, right? So we can retaliate against people we feel are impeding our freedom in a peaceful manner. My question is simply of whether I have the ability to legally retaliate against the protesters who may have just made me an hour late for an important event by blocking a public freeway.

Edit: Another way to look at it: If a police officer detained me without cause, and there were witnesses and video to verify this, I could sue the police department and win. Why then, can a group of citizens detain me without cause, without also facing legal repercussion?

  • I'm curious to know what legal grounds I would have in this situation to travel unobstructed.
  • Can I only call the police and hope they press charges?
  • Can I video the protesters and press charges against each of them, even sue each protester for damages?
  • In other words, is there any way for me to retaliate against the (unlawful) protesters legally and peacefully?

Note: Many are responding with something along the lines of "What if it were an accident? You couldn't press charges on the drivers in an accident for detaining you". There's a huge difference between being detained by an accident, and a group of people intentionally and unlawfully detaining me on a public freeway. So I really don't understand these responses.

My initial wording to the question seemed to confuse my intentions and lead to alot of "no, you can't run them over" rhetoric (which wasn't actually my question at all), so I've edited and simplified the question.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Nov 16 '16 at 18:37
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    "exercising their rights at the expense of mine" They're not exercising any rights. There is no protected right to block a roadway. There's a right to protest, but not a right to obstruct others from going about their business in the process, let alone to effectively unlawfully detain them.
    – reirab
    Nov 16 '16 at 20:21
  • "but doesn't it say somewhere in there that one person can't exercise their rights in a way that prohibits me from exercising mine?" No, there is no such statement in the Constitution. Courts generally take those matters into account when making rulings, though. Having said that, that's a bit irrelevant here, as these people are not exercising any right, but rather are breaking the law.
    – reirab
    Nov 16 '16 at 20:27
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    You have the right to call the police and ask them to clear the pedestrians blocking the interstate. In my state, California, motorists must yield to pedestrians even if the pedestrians are in the road illegally. CVC 21954. Nov 16 '16 at 23:24


What power do I have as a driver if my interstate route is blocked by a protest?

As an ordinary citizen, no powers in most jurisdictions.

You have the right to report obstruction of the highway to the local police.

You likely have the right to sue those people if you have evidence of significant harm they have caused you.

Right to Obstruct

I feel like ethically no one has the right to obstruct my travel

You are wrong to put this in absolute terms. For example, a roadworker holding a "stop" sign has the right to temporarily obstruct your travel. A school bus unloading children has the right to obstruct your travel. Someone lying injured on a pedestrian crossing may have rights which rank higher than yours.

Also, since you ask in the context of this specific website, rights are limited to those granted to individuals by laws enacted by government. Your personal sense of ethics does not directly determine what legal rights you have.


But that's why we have laws, right? So we can retaliate against people we feel are impeding our freedom in a peaceful manner.

Mirriam Webster

Full Definition of retaliate

transitive verb
:  to repay (as an injury) in kind
intransitive verb
: to return like for like; especially :  to get revenge

Retaliate is the wrong word to use for what you mean. The law does not provide for you to repay in kind or return like for like. The law is not about enabling revenge.

Retaliation generally is the act of seeking revenge upon another. Various federal and state laws, which vary by state, protect certain persons who seek to assert their legal rights from retaliation.

- uslegal.com

Vehicular Misdemeanour

Note: The question was later amended to remove the following:

driving forward slowly, giving the protesters an opportunity to move, but not stopping my vehicle if they refuse, would be an ethically fair option.

Not, for example, according to Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal on March 24 2015.

The law requires drivers to use due care to avoid pedestrians.

The context was a driver using a car to push through protesters on the highway.

It may be worth considering that the people you hit (no matter how slowly) with your car may have their own (perhaps equally incorrect) assessment of the ethics of the situation:

Using force to escalate a conflict doesn't always lead to the outcome you desire.

Here's an example from the Star Tribune:

The motorist who rolled through a busy Minneapolis intersection packed Ferguson street protesters last November, slightly injuring one demonstrator, was charged Tuesday afternoon with three misdemeanor traffic violations.

Jeffrey P. Rice, 40, of St. Paul, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with reckless or careless driving, careless driving and failure to avoid colliding with a pedestrian. Rice was charged by summons and has an April 14 court date.

Last month, the county attorney’s office decided not to charge Rice with a felony in connection with when he drove through the protesters late in the afternoon on Nov. 25 at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, where he knocked over one of the participants. The case was then presented by police to the city attorney’s office for potential prosecution on misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor counts.

Rice admitted to police that he saw the people in the street before he went ahead and “drove through them,” the criminal complaint read.

In a statement explaining the charges, City Attorney Susan Segal said, “The law requires drivers to use due care to avoid pedestrians. We don’t believe that standard was met in this case.”


Jeffrey P. Rice, 41, of St. Paul, was fined $575 and ordered to attend a driver's education course within six months for failure to yield to a pedestrian.


several hundred protesters were blocking the intersection.

  • 3
    In this hypothetical situation, calling the protesters "peaceful" simply because they aren't actively breaking anything is a bit of a stretch. Passive aggression is still aggression; there's a big difference between protesting (calling attention to something) and actively interfering with the rights of ordinary citizens who are not actually involved with whatever it is that's being protested. Nov 14 '16 at 1:22
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    @Mason, sure, I guess I meant non-violent, ie people who are not directly threatening you with the application of physical force against you. I'll update my answer to make that clearer. Mind you. I'm not actually sure you have a legal right to respond to passive aggression with active aggression. Nov 14 '16 at 12:02
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    +1 for actually addressing the question, instead of talking about running people over at full speed. The requirement to "use due care to avoid pedestrians" is pretty much the answer.
    – DCShannon
    Nov 17 '16 at 1:13
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    It's worth mentioning that the people (of the US) have rights prior to any law, according to the US's founding documents. Specifically, they are "endowed by their Creator" with "inalienable" rights, which are then set out in the Constitution in a necessarily non-exhaustive manner. Given that the OP appears to be asking about US jurisprudence, this answer's premises are shaky at best. Dec 14 '16 at 22:26
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    "...rights are limited to those granted to individuals by laws enacted by government. Your personal sense of ethics does not directly determine what legal rights you have." Tell that to John Adams!
    – user3580
    Aug 4 '18 at 0:49


Hitting the pedestrians is a separate crime, even if they shouldn't be there.


On a highway, you might have a legal right of way and therefore a claim against the pedestrians for failing to yield.

Since the states (and not the federal government) own and operate the interstate highway system, your specific answer depends on the state law.

In North Carolina, for example, pedestrians walking along or upon a highway have a statutory duty to yield the right of way to all vehicles. So you could probably videotape and press misdemeanor charges against them individually. That said, contacting the police and waiting (or taking an alternate route) is the best recourse.

Having the right of way (or feeling ethically justified) doesn't allow you to commit an offense like hitting a pedestrian.

The fact that the pedestrians aren't supposed to be in your way is of little consolation in the charges you'll face if you injure or kill one. The court will see this as a legal/ethical problem, but one that won't go in your favor.

In particular, you deliberately directed your vehicle into the crowd with the knowledge that the action might cause harm. One doesn't have to imagine the Austin Powers steamroller scenario to know that injuries are possible when cars go through crowds. That will pull all of the "involuntary"-flavored mitigations off the table.

In particular, driving a car into a crowd might be considered "an inherently dangerous act or omission, done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty." In the worst case scenario, where someone died as a result, a North Carolina prosecutor might push for second-degree murder (which operates on a "recklessness-plus" standard and might not be as crazy as it sounds since driving into the crowd is likely reckless, and driving in slowly with them yelling at you to stop could push a jury over the top). In that case, as a defendant, you'd hope your charge could be mitigated down to something like death by vehicle (which is similar to "vehicular manslaughter" in other states), and you'd shoot for the misdemeanor version of death by vehicle since you weren't driving under the influence. However, a key element of proving death by vehicle is that you unintentionally caused the death---and the fact that you deliberately drove into the crowd might ruin your defense. In the case where you just hurt someone, you'd likewise hope to mitigate intentional charges to unintentional ones.

A claim for false imprisonment is unlikely to succeed.

False imprisonment is called a variety of things---like felonious/misdemeanor restraint, unlawful detainment, etc.---depending on where you live. To prove it (and generalizing a bit since this varies by state), you typically have to show (1) detention or restraint against your will, and (2) unlawfulness of the detention or restraint. A big challenge here is that courts often interpret this to mean detention or restraint by exercise of force or threat of force, as in Harris v. Stanioch, 150 Wash. 380 (1928) for example. The protesters are just in the way, so it's unlikely this would hold up.

Self defense almost surely won't be a viable excuse.

The idea of driving the car slowly through the crowd relies on the notion that you should be able to escape the alleged detention. The escape you're considering in driving through the crowd likely comes at the expense of making contact with members of the crowd. Making unprivileged contacts might be allowable in self defense. However, self defense probably hold up either. Setting aside notions of proportional defense, you have to be defending yourself against something: force or threats of it by the protesters. So if they don't use force, or threaten it, against you, then your defense is going to be really shaky.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Sep 30 '19 at 1:48

Let's explore this idea of "ethically no one has the right to obstruct my travel".

Do you have the right to go anywhere you want whenever you want? Can you just walk over a national border as you please, and no one dare challenge your presence in another country? Can you walk onto a military base unobstructed? Through your neighbor's property (unless you're in a right to roam country)?

No. The "right to travel unobstructed" idea is not a right; and in your case it is a desire to be free of inconvenience. Unfortunately, though, once you leave your house your ability to control the world around you diminishes significantly.

Let's look at some driving scenarios, since your question was grounded in that:

  • Say you're driving down the road and a herd of deer appear ahead, and aren't particularly inclined to move. Are they exercising a desire to violate your personal rights to travel?

  • What if there's a forest fire that is skipping the road ahead, making passage impossible? Is it exercising a will to violate your personal rights to travel unobstructed?

  • What if you're driving on a four lane road, and two elderly "Sunday drivers" are in each of lanes, driving 25 mph in a 40, and you can't get past them? Are they intentionally violating your rights to travel unobstructed?

  • When you're stuck in rush hour traffic, trying to get to work, are the other people around you stuck in traffic also trying to get to work, or are they willfully violating your rights to travel unobstructed? Is the fact that they are trying to get to work violating your "rights" to get to work? Conversely, if getting to work unobstructed is indeed a right, aren't you violating their rights by being among the many people that is in their way?

When you leave your home, you are joining the public domain where other actors (natural or man-made) are present. From your interest in economics surely you understand that most are self-interested actors with their own agendas that have nothing to do with you; and thus, no one is intending to violate you in any way.

And your rights end where other people's rights begin. In no US court could you not be held accountable for vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter for purposely running people over with your car because they were inconveniently in your way.

Nor could you pursue suing pedestrians for the "damages" you incurred because they simply existed on a street.

Given that the answers to the above driving scenarios are probably no, then it's time to look at your motivation for such a feeling about protestors "obstructing your right to travel": namely, that you don't agree that they should be allowed to use the public domain in such a way that it causes you an inconvenience; and that is most likely politically motivated.

The right to be free of inconvenience in the public sphere isn't a right or an ethical dilemma. It's selfish and self-righteous thinking and any judge would point out all of these arguments above.

  • 15
    @Viziionary they probably would face legal repercussions if you sued them, but you're not asking about that. You're asking about running them over. That's quite different. You'd also be prosecuted if you did that to a police officerwho was detaining you without cause, I might add.
    – phoog
    Nov 13 '16 at 0:46
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    @Viziionary - you seem to believe that you have a right to push people around any time they get in your way. You don't. Nov 13 '16 at 3:52
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    This answer makes many false analogies, none of the examples given display any ill-will on the part of the other party, whereas the protesters are willfully obstructing passage.
    – March Ho
    Nov 13 '16 at 3:57
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    I did not shoot the other guy. I was trying to insert a bullet into the wall behind him. He wilfully obstructed the path of the bullet with his body. I provided the flight time of the bullet for him to dodge it but he didn't do so. In no way can I be held responsible for his death. Nov 13 '16 at 12:15
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    Not coming down on either side, but I want to make sure that everyone remembers that freedom of movement itself is constitutionally protected in the USA (not that it's ever enforced when it actually matters). Its protection against government shouldn't be blindly applied to the more complicated issues between the citizenry (who have many rights). In other words, you do have the right to travel unobstructed, but how conflicts are resolved depends on who is doing the obstructing, how, and why. Nov 13 '16 at 19:25

Your main power as a US citizen is to politically persuade lawmakers to do something to guarantee your unimpeded use of the roads in a legally-defined manner (i.e. you can't expect legislation to abolish rush hour traffic). You can call the police, in case they haven't been called. You can video anyone that you want. What you may not do is speed up and plow through the crowd.

If protesters attack you or your vehicle, you would have an actionable cause (but remember that they wear masks, so identifying the people who assaulted you could be challenging – not impossible), because assault and property damage are actionable torts, as well as crimes. Blocking your path may also technically be a tort (false imprisonment) depending on how trapped you are, and assuming that the blockage is unlawful. I don't know if anyone has ever sued a protester for making them late.

  • 3
    I don't think false imprisonment claims will hold water unless they physically prevent you from exiting your vehicle. Bringing up the related example from towing (as in my answer), tow operators regularly block people from moving their vehicles, but unless they also block the driver from exiting the vehicle to let it be towed, they're not risking false imprisonment charges. Nov 12 '16 at 22:49
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    I was referring to §35-45 of the Restatement of Torts on false imprisonment, and assuming you got on the freeway and find yourself trapped in a mob. Physical ability to leave the car would not actually matter because you're still trapped on the freeway. But as I say that probably is just technically true, and not practically applicable.
    – user6726
    Nov 12 '16 at 23:07
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    I suspect as long as you could exit your vehicle and walk, no court would consider it imprisonment - even if it's not normally legal to walk on the side of the freeway, you certainly can in an emergency if your car is broken down, etc. Nov 12 '16 at 23:17
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    If protesters attack your vehicle you could conceivably (depending on the circumstances and rational person test) have an immediate justification to drive through them in self-defense.
    – feetwet
    Nov 13 '16 at 0:17
  • @feetwet Wasn't the landrover driver in NYC given a pass for driving over motorcyclists because they attacked his vehicle? I feel like with these protesters, and some have attacked vehicles, this would apply as precedent. Reasonable fear for personal safety.
    – Rig
    Nov 14 '16 at 3:53

You can do whatever you like as long as it's legal.

Broadly speaking, one person carrying out an illegal action (like blocking a road) does not justify an illegal action by another (like striking them with a car).

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    @Viziionary it always remains homicide - the driver can always stop and by not doing so they have deliberately killed another human being
    – Dale M
    Nov 13 '16 at 0:29
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    There's no reason it can't be suicide and homicide at the same time, which it would be if both parties intend to cause the death.
    – bdsl
    Nov 13 '16 at 0:29
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    @Viziionary: There's no point at which it does. Driving over someone who is lying in the road is always assault, and if you kill the person by doing so, homicide. Nov 13 '16 at 0:29
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    @Viziionary I want to point out that the people in front of you may not be able to move. In a huge crush of people, it may be physically impossible for them to move, and they don't have 2000 horse power of nitro-boosted war machine to push other people out of the way. In a traffic jam, creeping forward to the car in front of you until you hit them isn't defensible as "I gave them the opportunity to move, but they didn't." Nov 13 '16 at 21:46
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    Sorry, your answer doesn't add much, and what it adds is wrong. (1) "You can do whatever you like as long as it's legal" is a tautology: You just re-iterated the definition of legal, which adds nothing. (2) That "an illegal action [...] does not justify an illegal action by another" is obviously wrong, unless taken as another tautology (of course illegal actions are forbidden): because normally illegal actions become legal in self-defense or even third-party defense; stand-your ground laws similarly legalize otherwise illegal acts; it's legal to forcefully hold a felon; etc. Nov 15 '16 at 8:34

The term for intentionally driving a vehicle into a person who is blocking the path of your vehicle (regardless of whether you have the right of way) is vehicular assault and it's not something you want to be charged with. Tow operators can tell you all about it because they run into it quite often when they, or the person who called them, is preventing the person whose vehicle is about to be towed from moving it away from the location where it's illegally parked.

  • The tow operator has a legal right to do that, though. Protestors attempting to detain people against their will do not.
    – reirab
    Nov 16 '16 at 20:59

General arguments concerning travel vs. obstruction: I can imagine an abundance of situations where not only people have an ethical right to block an interstate, but actually have an ethical obligation. From a utilitarian point of view this would be the case any time a higher good than your (undisputed) right to use the interstate is at stake. Some examples are obvious: A person in danger of dying needing immediate help, for example by transportation, would ethically and perhaps legally require bystanders to stop vehicles with any reasonable means at hand, for example by blocking the road.

If the danger to the good is less immediate, or if the good at stake is less valuable than a person's life, the right to block the road becomes less clear. For example events that attract crowds who share legitimate interests, like big funerals, protest marches or even sports and entertainment events may lead to ad-hoc road blockages.

Your specific question about protests: To congregate in order to take part in the political decision-making is a constitutional guarantee codified in the first amendment:

Congress shall make no law [...] abridging [...] the right of the people peaceably to assemble [...].

There is no explicit constitutional guarantee concerning highway use (although the general freedom of movement could be considered having constitutional status, and has been asserted repeatedly by the Supreme Court.)

Note that the issue here is not about "detaining" somebody, which is obviously not a constitutional right. In the assumed scenario — a peaceful protest — you are free to leave, but not through the assembly.

In the case of conflicting legitimate interests (here: freedom of movement vs. first amendment) the weight of each interest must be considered. One issue is numbers: If one million protesters block one automobilist, the case seems clear, and vice versa. Another criterion is the values at stake. An assembly of soccer fans may not have the same standing as a political protest which is part of the democratic decision-making process.

Like always different people may come to different ethical conclusions. Like always, the law tries to mediate these conflicts in a way that most people can live with. Typically the law cannot and, for reasons of flexibility and adaptability, does not want to enumerate all possible contingencies, so that in the end the courts must apply the vague legal standards to the concrete circumstances.

Last not least allow me a remark about Germany, where I live: It is unlawful — not only unconstitutional, but violating immediately applicable law established by the Grundgesetz — to use grossly disproportionate violence in order to protect your rights. This is even true if it is the only available way to protect that right. If protecting your right would mean disproportionate harm to others, you have to forfeit it.

The classical example is the boy stealing an apple who is shot dead by the tree owner. It was legal in the Weimarer Republik but is no longer legal in the Bundesrepublik. A brief discussion of this case in context can be found in this paper., nominal p. 293.

The case is not as clear-cut in the U.S. where this proportionality principle has not been formally established (even though it is often being applied as part of common judicial reasoning on a case-by case basis).

  • Your answer's premise is off topic. The question is specifically about protesters blocking an interstate. I'm not going to press charges against a guy waving down traffic to stop because there's a wreck up ahead. That has nothing to do with my question.
    – J.Todd
    Nov 14 '16 at 11:57
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    I read " I feel like ethically no one no (non-police) citizen has the right to obstruct my travel", and the protest part was an addendum in brackets. (That gave me the impression that your assumed right to unobstructed travel was general -- which I challenged -- and the protests a special case.) If you read my post I use the obvious case to discuss less obvious cases, like protest marches, later. I think my answer is quite on topic. Also note that my second sentence establishes a very general criterium ("a higher good"), which is directly applicable to a protest. Nov 14 '16 at 12:01
  • I edited the answer. Nov 14 '16 at 14:44
  • Note that the Constitutional right to peaceful protest does not protect the right to do so in a place you don't otherwise have a right to be. You do not have a right to stand in the middle of an Interstate Highway, regardless of whether you consider such act as a protest or not. Similarly, you don't have the right to protest on the White House lawn, the middle of a gated military base, someone else's private property, or anywhere else that you don't already have a legal right to be.
    – reirab
    Nov 16 '16 at 21:08
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    @PeterA.Schneider No, in every instance where it was done, moving into the Interstate was done intentionally with the purpose of blocking traffic. And there were nowhere remotely close to a million people involved. Usually a few dozen. Sometimes hundreds and, in a few instances, perhaps thousands. It was certainly never unavoidable. There are far more practical places in any city for such a protest, but their aim was to disrupt the lives of others who didn't wish to participate in the protest as much as possible, which is most certainly not a protected right.
    – reirab
    Nov 17 '16 at 11:59

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