Home » Is A Car Public Or Private Space? Autopian Asks

Is A Car Public Or Private Space? Autopian Asks

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There’s something about cars I’ve wondered about for a long time: when you’re in your car, are you in public or are you in private? I think this is an interesting question because I do not think the answer is clear at all. Even if we consult the law, it seems to be a gray area, but I’m not really all that interested in what some sweaty lawyer has to say – I want to know what my favorite sweaty Autopians have to say! So let’s take a moment and try and think this through.

On one level, we take our cars very much into public spaces: the streets. It’s hard to get much more public than that, open roads, surrounded by potentially thousands of other cars, or even more pedestrians, possibly under buildings with balconies, very much in the sights of many, many pairs of eyes and CCTV cameras and probably drones and satellites or whatever fresh surveillance hell we’ve decided to unleash upon ourselves. If you’re driving your car, you’re very likely doing it in a public space.

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And yet, at the same time, how different is being in an enclosed car than being in some closed apartment or a room in a house? I’m not sure it is that different. It’s a private space, inside a car, and yet that private space is in public.

Some people have mentioned the darkness level of window tint as a factor, but I’m not sure how much that should be a criteria. Yes, it’s easier for people to see you pick your nose or give yourself an embarrassingly earnest pep talk if you don’t have window tint, but I think if you’re in your car, you’re still inside a private space, of sorts. I think I’d even apply this to a convertible with the top down, but perhaps with the application of relative speed.

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Being in a convertible on the highway at 75 mph feels like a place where you could tell the people you’re with secret things, secrets you would not want to tell them at, say, an outdoor café table. The speed provides some semblance of privacy.

I know I’ve done some very private things in a car parked in a public location, even if that public location was chosen for as much perhaps illusory “privacy” as possible. But it at least seemed somewhat private? And what about those of us who have had jobs where you may have chosen to eat lunch in your car, to get away from everyone and everything; the inside of that car must have felt pretty private in those moments, yes? Was it?

But still, these are just some vague feelings; if you’re in your car, where are you? Are you in public or in private? And that’s not even going into the strangeness of how a car can be a location unto itself: telling someone you’re in your car is often enough information for your location, even without knowing what location your car is in.

It’s a compelling question; so what do you think? Let’s discuss! And argue! And then make up. In private.

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Yes I Drive A 240
Yes I Drive A 240
25 days ago

Technically, you’re in private, but just like being in your house, some activities aren’t legal for you do to when visible to other people.

Bill D
Bill D
26 days ago

In the early ’80s police in Massachusetts arrested two dudes who were having sex in a parked car in a parking lot for “open and gross lewdness” and violating Massachusetts’s sodomy statute, the infamous MGL Ch. 272 § 34. Mass. SJC subsequently ruled that the interior of a car was “private” and threw out the whole thing. I wish I could find the case citation.

Last edited 26 days ago by Bill D
Bleeder
Bleeder
26 days ago

I submit that anything said / done “in private” can be “made public”, so don’t be a dick.

Peter DeTonnancourt
Peter DeTonnancourt
26 days ago

Private.

MY LEG!
MY LEG!
26 days ago

Interior is private. Exterior is public. /solomon mode

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
27 days ago

The way I see it, if the police need a warrant or permission to search it; it’s private.

Framed
Framed
27 days ago
Reply to  Phil Layshio

Agree. Why cars are gray is (in the US) police don’t need a warrant or permission if they have “probable cause,” which could be seeing something illegal through the window or smelling an illegal substance.

Eslader
Eslader
25 days ago
Reply to  Phil Layshio

Except that if whatever illegal shit you’re doing is visible to a cop standing on the outside of the car looking in through a window, it’s considered in plain view and they do not need a warrant to seize it. And now that they’ve caught you doing that illegal thing, they can arrest you and then search the car pursuant to the arrest, again without a warrant.

So, basically, keep the heroin in the glove box, not the cup holder.

And that’s not even going into the “we’ll bring the dog out and he will alert if we want him to by scratching the shit out of your paint, and then we will search the car without a warrant” bit.

And even if the thing you’re doing is not illegal but the cops claim it’s probably tied to something illegal, they can seize it and never give it back under civil asset forfeiture. So, don’t carry much cash, and keep what you do carry out of sight.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
27 days ago

As long as someone else can see you, you’re in public.

Old curmudgeon
Old curmudgeon
27 days ago

When NC changed the castle doctrine law for people with a concealed carry permit your car is the same as your house thusly private. Just remember you must be in imminent danger. Only then can you us lethal means to prevent or stop the threat.

GS § 14‑51.2. Home, workplace, and motor vehicle protection; presumption of fear of death or serious bodily harm.

§ 20‑4.01. Definitions.(23) Motor Vehicle. – Every vehicle which is self‑propelled and every vehicle designed to run upon the highways which is pulled by a self‑propelled vehicle. Except as specifically provided otherwise, this term shall not include mopeds or electric assisted bicycles.

Abe Froman
Abe Froman
27 days ago

I don’t see it mentioned yet, but there is a semi-famous case of a woman in Michigan who sued the municipality for “unreasonable search and seizure” when the municipality used chalk to mark her tires. The purpose was to ensure two hour parking. She won the case, the municipality was not allowed to physically mark vehicles.

Based on this case alone, cars are private.

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/23/716248823/court-says-using-chalk-on-tires-for-parking-enforcement-violates-constitution

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