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Optional Traffic Laws

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In freeworld driving games, being forced to comply to the real-life rules of the road would just be too cumbersome for most gamers. People don't like waiting at red lights in real life, and certainly no one wants to do so in video games (half the time they have to restrain themselves from driving over the pedestrians). Consequently, in many games, players are allowed to speed, run red lights and stop signs, run over red lights and stop signs, or otherwise drive recklessly with impunity.

This can be problematic, as most driving games feature vehicles that can only alternate between "unmoving" and "already too fast". That's usually good, but it becomes a nuisance when having to follow an NPC car that obeys traffic laws and/or will get scared if you get too near.

There are just as many exceptions as there are examples, but there are enough straight uses to make this trope-worthy.


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     Action Adventure  

  • The Getaway, The Getaway: Black Monday and the PSP spinoff Gangs Of London enforce strict driving rules — correct side of the road, stopping at red lights, etc. This is useful at the beginning of the game, but as you engage in more and more criminal activity as the plot demands, the police will come after you no matter what you do.

     Adventure Game  

  • In the Sam & Max: Freelance Police episodic games, the main characters are the police (well, police with no official authorization or oversight on any level), and one of them is additionally the President of the United States, so there's no penalty for destroying traffic cones, stoplights, lampposts, or sidewalk cafes during the driving sequences. There's no benefit, either - it's just fun.
  • Police Quest, a game focused on realistic portrayal of procedure, made you obey traffic laws, though later games in the series streamline things (IE no speed limits, no stops except at turns) to make things easier for the players.
  • Nancy Drew. In Trail of the Twister Nancy can drive on the wrong side of the road, randomly bash into other cars, and cause ten-car pileups (complete with tractor trailers). She only suffers any consequences when her health bar runs out, making her crash her own car.
    • Secret of the Old Clock features the first driving aspects in the series, but it's much less fun because there are no other cars on the road. Nancy can still basically do whatever she wants, although running over potholes one time too many gives her a flat tire.

     Driving Game  

  • Crazy Taxi.
  • The Simpsons: Road Rage. One Road Rage magazine ad even featured Homer saying "Roads are optional, just like pants."
  • The Simpsons Hit & Run. However, if you run too many people or things over the cops will come and chase you, although driving on the wrong side of the road and not stopping at traffic lights are not a problem.
  • Another exception: Part of the challenge of the original Driver and it's sequel was that you had to obey things like speed limits or traffic lights when the police were around. You would actually fail certain missions for as much as neglecting to signal a turn. Better hope you don't hit your car at night, too - Missing headlight = Immediate police reprisal. In the original, police cruisers will ram and sideswipe your vehicle into scrap for the smallest breach of the traffic laws. Ironically, it's actually impossible to run over any pedestrians in the game, due to their ability to jump and duck away Just in Time (if due to a game glitch, they jump in the wrong direction, they'll just go through your car).
    • Driver: San Francisco is much looser about this, though. It's justified two different ways: Tanner's an on-duty cop participating in authorized chases (and therefore expected to speed, weave through traffic, ect.) or other cars are getting away with shenanigans in Tanner's coma dream, where he subconsciously makes the rulesnote .
  • And while we're throwing around exceptions, Midnight Club Los Angeles sends cops after you if one spots you exceeding the speed limit, running a red light or otherwise driving irresponsibly. (Thankfully, this is only the case if there's a cop within a short radius of you.)
  • Burnout and its sequels. These even include a mode where the intent is to crash as many cars as you can.
  • Spy Hunter. Seriously. All these cars with blades, guns, missiles... and no-one around?
    • In the original remake for the PS2, there are all kinds of civilian cars around, and killing any of them, even by accident, usually SNAFUs your mission (later missions let you get away with killing some with the ambiguous parameter of "minimize civilian casualties"). That doesn't mean you can't smash through them all you want, just that you can't clear the mission if you do.
  • APB (1987) from Atari Games works similarly, although bad enough wrecks will get you demerits. Then again, you're the cop in this one.
    • Frustratingly, the game teaches you to pull over minor offenders such as litterbugs by rapidly pressing the siren button until they comply. What the game doesn't teach you is that, when going after major criminals where you have to smash into their car, you need to hold the siren button down. If you don't, you get demerits!
  • Midtown Madness specifically has the pedestrians run out of the way if they're on the street, or flatten themselves against a building, making it impossible to run anyone over. If you do obey traffic laws (speed limit, lanes, lights, etc), you are left alone by the authorities. Breaking any of these laws results in the cops chasing you mercilessly.
    • Except in the second game, where most of the time the cops will immediately chase you. Sometimes they'll even spawn in front of your face.
    • However, like GTA stopping at a red light will result in cars plowing into you...this causes the cops to come after you.
  • Partial exception: Test Drive Unlimited. Traffic cops abound and will come after you for the slightest of crashes (even if it wasn't your fault); however, speeding is always allowed as long as you don't hit anything, and all traffic laws vanish during participatory races.
  • An interesting example occurs in some of the Need for Speed games some/most of the tracks have signs with the speed limit on them. If you stay under this limit, the police will leave you alone. Granted it takes about twice as long to finish the race, but still.
    • In Most Wanted and Carbon, when you attract police attention, your police scanner will let you know if the police are looking for a reckless driver in general, or your car specifically (the difference between "caller did not get a good look" and "suspect is driving a [color] [make]"). If they don't have your vehicle description, and you follow traffic laws, they won't come after you. But when you're in a car that can go 250 miles an hour, driving under 35 is difficult, to say the least (you're still in first gear! Not even pushing 4000 RPMS!).
  • In the original Road Rash, police will come after you even if you do follow all the traffic laws.
  • Most Mario Kart games from Mario Kart 64 and onward have at least one racetrack in the form of a public road, with regular motor traffic still traveling through it. The racers, of course, can weave through traffic, collide with them, ignore lane divisions, drive on the wrong side of the road, ignore traffic lights and tollbooths, and attack the non-racing vehicles and not get in any trouble. The Extra version of Toad's Turnpike in Mario Kart 64 takes it further by having the entire race set in the opposite direction of traffic. Moonview Highway from Mario Kart Wii, actually encourages sheer chaos on the roads, as a few vehicles are gigantic bombs (which themselves are barely following traffic rules) that explode if a racer or item touches them in any way.
  • Played straight in Sonic Riders with Metal City, which, like the Mario Kart examples, are public roads still in general use as the racers are traveling by. Subverted slightly in Night Chase, however, as police cars are everywhere and are going after someone, though it's unclear whom. Power characters can punch the police cars out of the way though.
  • Forza Horizon and its sequels are all set in real countries on public roads. Naturally though, you are free to break the speed limit or drive like an idiot as much as you like, with the only consequence for speeding, driving the wrong way down the road, crashing into NPC "civilian" cars etc being you potentially being stopped dead by crashing into something. While there are speed cameras in the form of "speed traps" these are expressly for you to try and go as fast as possible through them.

     First Person Shooter  

  • Minor exception in the James Bond game NightFire: Driving slowly in a driving mission allows you to bypass a speed trap that would otherwise send law enforcement after you. They still come after you later in the level and you lose the bonus points for non-lethally dispatching the officers.

     Platform Game  

  • The later games in the Jak and Daxter series are an exception, although in this case, it's only if you hit one of the Krimson Guard. You can run over all the civilians you want with no penalties in Haven City. In Spargus, everyone is armed, and will fire if you hit them.

     Role Playing Game  

  • Averted in Steambot Chronicles where to be certain you don't break any laws, all control of your vehicle/robot is taken away from you while in a town. Usually it's faster to get out and walk than to wait for traffic queues at lights. And if you decide to go down the "evil" story branch... you still follow traffic laws to the letter.

     Simulation Game  

  • Driving in SimCity 4 will not alert the police in any way, unless the mission says that it should. But then again, you are the mayor.
  • In Elite Dangerous, the player is free to ram ships pretty much anywhere - and is a common way of griefing in online play - but god help you if so much as dare to enter a space station without first asking for docking permission.
  • In EVE Online, the standard penalty for doing anything wrong is to be blown up, either by allowing the aggrieved party to shoot you or for particularly bad violations having the space police show up and shoot you. However, for once ramming ''doesn't'' always work and in fact causes no damage at all, meaning it doesn't count as an offence. But collisions do have physics, and ships need to take time to perfectly align themselves before entering warp speed. Since large ships tend to turn slowly, it's possible to repeatedly ram them and prevent them from ever warping away, while also knocking them too far from a station to dock. This is frequently used against targets in war or other legitimate targets, by having neutral parties prevent them escaping while giving them no way to fight back since the neutrals haven't actually done anything wrong.

     Third Person Shooter  

  • And the GTA clone where you play as the cop, True Crime also features this trope.
    • Hilariously, the player character will attempt to follow traffic laws during cutscenes. And in case you're wondering, yes, it's possible to have your car explode during a cutscene because people keep running into you and you can't move to avoid them.
  • Exception: In Mafia, police actually do come after you for the most minor infractions. One could toggle a speed limiter to keep velocity within the legal limit.
    • As the game featured realistic physics for the cars of the time (meaning awful handling) this was not a bad idea either, as running too fast you would easily lose control. The police would also not arrest you for minor infractions, just give you a ticket.
    • Mafia's inversion itself can be inverted, seeing as long as the player charater does not speed or hit anything, he can drive however he wants without attracting the police.
    • One notable issue with the exception is that the law against running red lights is often inconstantly enforced, usually due to the game not detecting the player did so. Which goes hand-in-hand with the fact you can freely drive the wrong way, ignore road signs, and drive on the sidewalk so long as you don't cause property damage or run anyone over.
  • In the Transformers movie video games, the police will generally ignore you in vehicle mode, so long as you don't actually blow anything up. (And sometimes even then.) You'd think that people searching for alien robots that turn into cars would take notice of a car that's behaving like the driver's never been on a planet with traffic laws.
  • Both Mercenaries-games. Justified since they both take place in warzones.

     Wide Open Sandbox  

  • Grand Theft Auto, as mentioned. It's implied that the reason for this is that the local PD is corrupt and too indifferent to respond to minor crimes. (Although if in your careless driving you should scrape a police car, watch out...)
    • Note that the player isn't the only one who does it. Statistically, at least one car spawned at any given moment is as crazy as you are when it comes to reaching their destination.
    • Ambulances are hilarious examples of this - they all drive like their drivers are completely plastered. Want proof? Kill a pedestrian and wait about three minutes. They'll kill more people to reach their patient.
    • Lampshaded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; the early missions have characters note that Carl (the player character) Drives Like Crazy. Despite this, everyone insists he drive whenever they get in a car.
    • In Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, the in game GPS gives you the shortest route to your destination... assuming all traffic laws obeyed. All players learn early to drive in the opposite direction of in coming traffic, and to plow through the bus stop. Hilariously is that crashing into the policeman's car earns you an immediate wanted level... which you can then get rid off by slamming into another police car hard enough as the ramming gameplay mechanic exclusive to this game doesn't account for aggression towards law enforcement (which increase the number and strength of law enforcement even further).
  • Bully is an exception, although a limited one. If Jimmy rides around on a moped without a helmet, he triggers the game's wanted meter. Then again, anything he does wrong there will, too.
  • The Saints Row games. In 2, you even get bonus points for driving on the wrong side of the road or just barely missing a car, similar to Burnout.
    • Bonus points for burnouts and powerslides too! Also for driving on two out of four wheels. Plus other ridiculous vehicular activities, like carsurfing. But, like in GTA, if you so much as scrape a police car, they'll be livid. They get kinda uppity if you run over lampposts too.
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla. You think the EDF would care about civilians driving like madmen, given heavy vehicles that can plow through buildings, but... nope. As long as you don't flatten any goons they don't give a damn. The AI civilians only care if you're in a tank or walker... at which point they panic and scatter, driving around like mad and sometimes making it harder to drive to your destination without killing any of them.
  • L.A. Noire justifies this: you're a cop and thus not beholden to traffic laws broken in the line of duty. This appears to be true in real life. Of course, if you commandeer a non-cop car, the police seem to magically be aware that Detective Phelps is behind the wheel and don't pursue him.
  • The Just Cause series takes this trope and drives off with it at 300 MPH. Driving ridiculously fast, on the wrong side of the road, over other vehicles, etc. won't draw any ire from the military whatsoever as long as you don't kill anyone or crash into a military vehicle, and sometimes not even then, despite you're the One-Man Army acting on the behalf of either The Agency and the La Résistance, and once per game, the game begins with the main character singlehandedly attacking a military stronghold.
  • Justified in Mercenaries 1 & 2. You're a heavily armed mercenary in a war-zone, there's nobody enforcing traffic laws at the moment, and even if there were they wouldn't want to mess with someone who's packing enough firepower to flatten a city block.

     Real Life  

  • Look closely at just about any car commercial on television, and you can see numerous moving violations i.e. driving on the wrong side of the road, speeding, passing dangerously/illegally, failure to signal, fishtailing, and so forth. Then again, almost all of these commercials are strangely devoid of other vehicles, and are often tagged Professional Driver on Closed Course or something to that effect.
  • As part of more general issues with Diplomatic Impunity, it's absurdly common for diplomats to act as if traffic laws in their host country don't apply to them at all, since there's no way that they can feasibly be prosecuted for them. The UK government in 2014 published a list of countries whose diplomats owe over £100,000 in parking fines and London congestion charges (topped by the USA with over £8million in unpaid fines, followed by Japan with £5.6million). The possible nadir of this came in 2019 when Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA officer killed 19-year old motorcyclist Harry Dunn while driving on the wrong side of the road, and promptly was removed from the country by the US while claiming diplomatic immunity. The UK authorities intend to prosecute her, however it is unclear as to how much Sacoolas will cooperate with this or be required to do so.
  • There's actually a version of "optional traffic laws" that occurs quite often in real life: Selective Enforcement. it's at the discretion of law enforcement whether or not they choose to enforce a traffic law and to what degree. So one officer might be pulling over people who are 5 mph over the speed limit while another might only be getting people doing 15 mph over.