High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Tickets

What Is A WA HOV Traffic Ticket?

We all know the bad news without needing headlines to prove it: Western Washington traffic – and drivers – are among the nation’s worst. For many of us, sitting in stop-and-go traffic is mind-numbing and infuriating.

The latest studies offer a litany of proof.

An insurance-industry ranking of states, based on accidents and moving violations, concluded that in 2018 Washington drivers were the nation’s tenth-worst (the year before, we were fifth-worst.)

In terms of extra hours spent sitting on congested roads, Seattle drivers ranked #9 and Tacoma drivers #16 in 2016, compared with motorists in other urban areas around the country. To put this in practical terms, the average morning commute from Everett to Seattle in 2016 was 94 minutes, while the morning commute from Federal Way to Seattle was 72 minutes.

Watching drivers cruise by in free-flowing HOV lanes can add to the frustration.

What are HOV Lanes?

HOV lanes – often called carpool lanes – are intended to help Washington drivers navigate congested roadways, not create extra stress. HOV is an acronym for high occupancy vehicle, and these lanes are intended for carpools, transit vehicles, ride-shares, and motorcyclists.

They were created as an enticement for drivers to reduce their solo trips. In theory, they offer a classic win-win: HOV lane users may zip past stalled freeway traffic, while also reducing the number of vehicles in the clogged lanes. As a result, more travelers can move through high-volume corridors at faster speeds, in both the HOV and general-purpose lanes.

Studies show this strategy works. Washington state transportation analysts say many HOV users would revert to solo travel if the special lanes were eliminated, resulting in jammed traffic in all lanes.

Our state has two basic types of HOV lanes on I-5, I-90, I-405, Highway 16, Highway 167 and Highway 520.

Their rules can seem confusing. Required passenger minimums vary; enforcement may depend on the time or even day of the week; some HOV lanes allow solo drivers to pay extra to use them.

HOV lanes generally fall into two categories:

  • Standard HOV Lanes – Most standard HOV lanes are on the left, typically with diamond symbols painted on the pavement and a solid white line separating them from other lanes. Occupancy requirements – posted on road signs –­ can vary between 2+ or 3+ persons per vehicle, depending on the highway and time of day. Motorcycles may use all standard HOV lanes, as may law enforcement and emergency vehicles.
  • Express Toll Lanes and High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes – These special lanes give solo drivers the ability to pay for faster travel by purchasing a Good to Go! The I-405 express toll lanes are in effect from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; carpoolers may use these lanes by obtaining a free Flex Pass. Motorcycles require a Good To Go! Motorcycle pass.The Highway 167 HOT lanes function every day from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. These are classic HOV lanes, but they also may be used by solo drivers who install a Good to Go! pass in their vehicles. Toll rates vary between 50 cents and $9 depending upon traffic flow conditions. Carpools, vanpools, buses, and motorcycles may use the lanes toll-free.

Trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds aren’t allowed to use HOV lanes, although recreational vehicles of any weight may.

In Washington, violating an HOV rule is a traffic infraction under RCW 46.61.165. The courts treat these tickets like other moving violations, such as speeding or rolling through a stop sign or a speeding ticket.

The state Department of Transportation estimates that HOV violation rates in Washington are between 1 and 7 percent, well below the national average of 10 to 15 percent. The state credits its HERO program for that relative success, as frustrated, law-abiding drivers rat on cheaters by reporting their license plate numbers online or by calling toll-free 877-764-HERO. First-time violators identified via the HERO program get a brochure in the mail; additional violations result in progressively sterner letters.

It can be tempting to use HOV lanes as a spontaneous solution to gridlock, whether one is dealing with a bona fide emergency or simply impatient with slow-moving traffic.

It’s easy to not take seriously the potential consequences: an expensive ticket; jacked-up insurance rates; plus the additional delay and frustration of the traffic stop itself.

But troopers are cracking down.

In King County alone, troopers pulled over more than 11,000 drivers per year in 2016 and 2017 for HOV violations, according to the Seattle Times.

Last September, Washington State Patrol devoted a full week to HOV emphasis, pulling over more than 1,700 motorists in King, North Pierce, and south Snohomish counties.

This included creative solo drivers who dressed up dummies and skeletons in failed attempts to cheat undetected.

What are the repercussions of getting an HOV ticket? Some common questions, and answers:

  • What is the fine for driving solo in a carpool lane in Washington State? The current fine is $186 for your first violation. If you receive second or more repeat violations within a two-year period the fine will be $336.
  • Is an HOV violation a moving violation? Yes, it is in Washington State.
  • Do HOV infractions go on your driving record? Yes, they do in Washington State.
  • Do HOV infractions raise your insurance rates? A study commissioned several years ago by InsuranceQuotes.com found that nationally, an HOV ticket raised rates by roughly 18%.

Should I hire a traffic attorney to fight my HOV infraction?

In Washington, moving violations such as HOV tickets will stay on your driving record for three years.

Since moving violations affect insurance rates, drivers clearly should hire a traffic ticket attorney to fight these infractions.

HOV tickets can be difficult to get dismissed. However, a skilled traffic ticket lawyer can usually get them reduced to non-moving violations.

At Garguile DUI & Traffic Lawyers, we have successfully fought over 10,000 traffic infractions. So if you recently received an HOV ticket in Pierce, King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Thurston or Lewis counties, give us a call today for a free traffic ticket strategy session. We’ll handle all aspects of your case, from start to finish; in most cases, you won’t even have to go to court.

Save your time and money, and let one of Washington’s top traffic ticket defense attorneys handle the lengthy, confusing legal process for you.

Strategy sessions are done over the phone, so you don’t have to come in for an appointment.

HOV Infractions Face Increased Fines In Washington State

As of July 28, 2019, new HOV lane laws went into effect increasing penalties for HOV and carpool lane violators in Washington State. Beginning this summer, drivers caught misusing HOV lanes will not only be penalized with paying higher fines, but now will also face an entirely new fine if caught using the carpool lane with a dummy, doll, or other decoy posing as a passenger in an attempt to utilize the HOV lane.

Under Senate Bill 5695, the state Legislature approved penalty increases for violators of HOV lanes, as well as high occupancy toll (HOT) and express toll lanes (ETL) regulations.

Changes to the HOV law now include:

  • Raising the initial violation fine from $136 to $186.
  • Creating a $336 fine for a second offense and subsequent repeat violations within a two-year period.
  • Adding a $200 fine for anyone caught trying to use a doll or dummy or other item in order to make it appear as another person is in the vehicle. The $200 fine is in addition to the violation fine, creating a possible maximum fine of $536.

Last September, Washington State Patrol troopers cited 1,671 carpool lane violators within just one week throughout Pierce, King, and Snohomish counties as part of an emphasis patrol funded by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Seventeen of those drivers were pulled over more than once within the same week for repeatedly using the HOV lane as an unaccompanied driver. While it’s no mystery that traffic and commute wait times in Washington State are listed among some of the worst in the nation, avoiding the temptation to drive in designated HOV lanes ultimately will save you the headache and financial burden of getting an infraction in the end.

According to the official bill, lawmakers described the escalating penalties as a rebuke to discourage repeat offenders from misusing the carpool lane. HOV violators prevent both carpool and regular lanes from operating as intended to help traffic flow more freely. The new legislation states that drivers violating HOV lane requirements “frustrate the state’s congestion management, and justifiably incite indignation and anger among fellow transportation systems users.”

It’s easy to understand the utter frustration that occurs while sitting in traffic and seeing cars in HOV and express lanes move past roadway congestion with ease; but getting a ticket for violating HOV laws isn’t the only repercussion that drivers will face if caught. In Washington State, an HOV infraction is considered as a moving violation, which occurs when a traffic law is broken by a vehicle in motion. HOV infractions will stay on a driver’s record for 3 years and have been known to raise insurance rates by up to 18%.

As troopers begin to crack down this summer, Washington drivers are encouraged to think of the new penalties set in place as an incentive to be a responsible driver and to better understand the rules of the road. HOV lanes were designed to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles, which helps manage traffic and allows drivers to better navigate congested roadways while lowering the risk of accidents.

HOV is an acronym for high occupancy vehicle, and these designated lanes are intended for carpools, transit vehicles, ride-shares, and motorcyclists. By reducing the number of solo drivers on the freeway, carpool lanes effectively allow drivers to avoid roadway traffic in high-volume areas while driving at faster speeds in both the HOV lane and all other general-purpose lanes. Studies by Washington State Transportation Analysts have shown that HOV lanes not only motivate commuters to travel together, but also showed that most HOV users would revert back to solo freeway driving if the special lanes allowed everyone to use them, creating more traffic for everyone.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) provides different types of HOV lanes along Interstate 5, Interstate 90, Interstate 405, State Route 16, State Route 167 and State Route 520.

Standard HOV lanes are typically located on the left inside lanes and are labeled by signs along the highway with diamond symbols painted on the pavement. These lanes are generally separated from the others on the highway by a solid white line. The HOV lane requires 2+ or 3+ persons per vehicle, depending on the highway and time of day. Motorcycles, as well as emergency and law enforcement vehicles also possess the right to use standard HOV lanes.

Express Toll Lanes (ETL) and High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes are a form of HOV lane that can also be used by non-HOV drivers, who choose to pay a toll in order to cruise past traffic. While the two types of lanes are very similar, they require drivers to have a Good To Go! pass on their vehicle in order to utilize the benefits of these special lanes.

New signs have been placed along several highways throughout the region with a reminder of the new increased fines that HOV lane violators will now face. While it may seem like a harmless solution to avoiding gridlock, misuse of the HOV lane isn’t worth the risk of getting an infraction among the other long-term consequences to follow. While HOV tickets can be difficult to get dismissed, with the help of a skilled traffic ticket lawyer, tickets can usually get reduced to a non-moving violation.

Our award-winning law firm makes the entire process as easy as possible by offering Strategy Sessions over the phone, so you don’t have to worry about coming in for an appointment. If you have recently been issued a HOV violation ticket in Pierce, King or Snohomish Counties give us a call today for a free consultation!