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This hypothetical question is based on a real incident I saw in the news.

Suppose that a car is driving over the speed limit by a significant amount, causing a police car to turn around and go after the car. When the police get to the car, it’s parked in a rest stop and all passengers are sitting in the back seat of the car. When the police asks who the driver was, all passengers deny being the driver.

What happens in such a situation? Clearly someone was driving the car, but only one of the multiple passengers. Suppose that there is no evidence of who the driver was (no camera footage, for instance). Maybe one of the passengers is the owner of the car, but that doesn’t guarantee that they were the one driving.

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In Spain, most traffic offenses are usually considered administrative sanctions and involve just a relatively small fine, and perhaps losing some points in your licence. In those cases, if the driver if the vehicle cannot be established (your example, or a far regular one of a parking violation in which the officer did not see who did park it and will not wait by the side of the parker until the driver appears), the fine just goes to the registered owner.

When the fine is reported to the registered owner of the vehicle, he can report who was the actual driver who broke the law at the time of the offense. I do not know what would happen if the person named does not recognize his responsability, but my guess is that the owner has to pay the fine (HINT: do not lend your car to someone who cannot be trusted).

If the infraction is so excessive that it becomes a matter of penal law then there must be a trial and then the accused must be established without reasonable doubt, so in that case such a stunt maybe could work.

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  • The same is largely true in New Zealand - they try and gloss over the whole "evidence of driver" bit by saying its a "strict liability defense" - ie the owner of the vehicle is liable if they don't say who is actually liable. IIRC you can't loose points on your license in these cases.
    – davidgo
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 21:50
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In Australia the owner of the vehicle is legally responsible for knowing who is driving it at all times. If they can’t (or won’t) name the driver by statutory declaration they are fined for failing this duty. The fine is considerably more than the summary fine for the offence being equal to the maximum fine that a court can hand out.

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Germany: I think the holder should know who the driver is, but can refuse to tell if it was a close relative. A judge will order the holder of the car to keep a diary where every journey is recorded, including driver obviously. That in itself is highly inconvenient. If it happens again, the holder will show his diary, and if the journey is not in the diary the car holder is in serious trouble.

For less serious offences (parking) there was an effort to get a law that the holder of the car had to pay the ticket, but had the right to demand the money back from the driver, and paying the ticket would not be seen as any evidence that the holder of the car had actually done anything wrong. I don't know if this went anywhere.

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In the U.S. it's very dependant on the relevant state law. Usually in this situation, the speeding is a misdemenor crime, and thus the driver needs to be identified correctly. The officer only making contact after all occupants exit the vehicle and the refusal to identify the driver would create enough reasonable doubt to result in an acquittal (presuming all any number of occupants were legally able to drive). If this was caught by a speed camera, then it will be charged as a civil offense and the ticket is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. Here the burden of proof is lesser, so the registered vehicle owner is responsible for the fine getting paid, however, would not be responsible for any punishment as if he was pulled over by a cop (I.E. Points are not placed on a license).

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  • "Usually in this situation, the speeding is a misdemenor crime" That's only true in a small number of states. In most states, normal speeding is a non-criminal civil infraction. It only becomes a misdemeanor in certain circumstances such as excessive speed or speeding in a construction zone.
    – user71659
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 21:46

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