What is a Joyride?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Adolescents with self-control issues and unsupervised vehicles can be a dangerous and expensive combination. The illicit practice known as a "joyride" makes this point abundantly clear. A joyride occurs whenever an unauthorized driver borrows or even steals a car for the sheer purpose of driving aimlessly or recklessly. An adolescent may take his parent's car out for a quick joyride with friends, for example, or a parking attendant might take a client's expensive sports car for a joyride around the block while the owner is otherwise engaged. A joyride is most certainly an illegal act, but the laws concerning auto theft do make a distinction between an unauthorized joyride and outright grand theft auto (GTA).

Some define a joyride as any car trip taken with no particular destination in mind, although in the eyes of the law a joyride is different than a simple unplanned jaunt. A true joyride often involves a driver who knows the illegality of the act along with passengers who may or may not know they are riding in a stolen or illicitly borrowed vehicle. A joyride almost always ends with the vehicle being returned to the owner unharmed, abandoned for lack of fuel, or reported as stolen. At best, the driver and passengers of a joyride may receive a stern reprimand from the owner for unauthorized use, but at worst the driver and any accomplices could be charged with a crime.


This is where the laws concerning joyriding and auto theft diverge. Under the laws of a number of countries, the intentions of the person who took a vehicle on a joyride can determine the degree of the criminal charges. If the driver intended to steal the vehicle and sell it for personal gain, then it would be considered grand theft auto, a very serious offense. However, if the driver's intention was to simply take the car out for a joyride and return the vehicle to the owner without damage, then the crime is not considered a theft. It would fall under a lesser charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. In the UK, the charge for joyriding is called TWOC, short for "Taken Without Owner's Consent."

A joyride may be a short-lived joy for the driver and occupants, but it can become a very long-term legal headache after the owner discovers a crime has been committed and the police have been notified. Cars equipped with electronic locators or satellite-based driving services could be discovered within minutes of making a report, so a joyride in the wrong car could be short and painful for the occupants.


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