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What Is A WA HOV Traffic Ticket?

  • By: Antonio Garguile, Esq.
  • Published: February 22, 2019
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 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.

Feel free to contact us today!

About the Author Tony was born and raised in Bremerton, Washington. He is an
energetic attorney and currently focuses his attention on the
representation of clients in both civil and criminal traffic matters.