What constitutes operating or driving within the meaning of statutory offenses? Let's say that you are letting your friend drive your car and you're next to him and allowing him to drive your car above the speed limits, let's then assume that your friend dies and kill someone else. Would you be charged of the same crime as if you were driving the vehicle yourself or does the law appreciate the difference between a driver and a passenger even if the passenger was instrumental to the accident itself? Let's assume that the country is the United States.

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    Simply letting somebody drive your car with you as the passenger doesn't automatically mean you're liable unless you possess knowledge that would mean they shouldn't be driving, like they are drunk, impaired, or don't have a license. Is that the case here?
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 2:44
  • I think you are "operating" a car even if you are sitting in the driver's seat while it is parked, but turned on.
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 3:50
  • IIRC, in Ontario, you are in charge of a car while intoxicated if you are sleeping it off in the back seat in the bar parking lot, as long as you have the keys..
    – DJohnM
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 4:42
  • Note that for civil liability purposes, the question is not whether someone was operating or driving, but whether their negligent conduct caused an injury, which is a different question.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 21:14
  • In Germany, you are “the driver” of a car if you parked it and left it where it is, possibly obstructing others or creating a dangerous obstacle. This is likely different from “operating” the car though.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 21:31

2 Answers 2


Depends on the statute

The Road Transport Act 2013 defines:

"drive" includes--

(a) be in control of the steering, movement or propulsion of a vehicle, and

(b) in relation to a trailer, draw or tow the trailer, and

(c) ride a vehicle.

"driver" means any person driving a vehicle, and includes any person riding a vehicle.

With regard to a similar definition of “drive” under s 3(1) of the now repealed Road Transport (General) Act 2005, the court in Williams v R [2012] NSWCCA 286; (2012) 229 A Crim R 67 observed at [60] that “there is nothing that extends the operation of that definition beyond that Act”.

Unless a passenger reaches over and tries to take control of the steering, movement or propulsion of the vehicle, they are not driving it.


RCW 46.04.370 defines "operator or driver" as:

"Operator or driver" means every person who drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle.

It's still possible for you to get in trouble under RCW 46.61.675 (causing or permitting a vehicle to be unlawfully operated), but that's a traffic infraction, which is specifically called out by RCW 46.63.020 as not being a criminal offense.

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