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10 Most Frequently Asked Questions About HOV Lane Laws

Updated on October 24, 2012
Avoid Traffic by Carpooling
Avoid Traffic by Carpooling | Source

Using the Carpool Lane

At first glance, carpooling is relatively simple concept when it comes to using the HOV lane: Do you have multiple people in your vehicle? Then yes, jump on into that lane. I recently started carpooling myself, and it has spiked my interest into the finer details of the HOV lane restrictions. I knew the purpose of the HOV lane was to take drivers off of the road, however, I really was baffled as to whether children were considered carpools, or if people without driver's licenses were. After some research on my state's HOV lane laws, here is what I found:

Please note that these rules vary between states. I live in Washington state, however, generally the rules are fairly similar throughout the United States. Verify first if you are unsure!


What is the Purpose of the HOV Lane?

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, or 'carpool lanes,' are intended to increase the flow of traffic by decreasing the amount of vehicles on the road. HOV lanes are built in areas of high congestion, wherein high volumes of traffic move throughout the day. The HOV lanes bypass these areas of congestion, encouraging commuters to travel in groups or use public transportation. HOV lanes also help keep buses on time, and provide a clear avenue for emergency vehicles.


Why are Motorcycles Allowed in the HOV Lane?

Motorcycles are very obviously not high-occupancy, however, they are allowed to use the HOV lane for safety purposes. During times of high congestion, there are a lot of vehicles merging in and out of lanes. As motorcycles are harder to spot, and more lethal in accidents, allowing them in the less crowded HOV lane is in everybody's best interest.

Do Children Qualify as Carpools?

Yes. Although the purpose of the HOV lane is to decrease the amount of drivers on the road, the law cannot discriminate against age a license status. All people, from infancy through adulthood, qualify a vehicle as HOV.

What if I am Pregnant?

No. I'm not going to get into a discussion on whether a fetus is considered a human being, but until your child has a birth certificate, they aren't recognized by the department of transportation.

Do School Buses Count?

Yes. Think of it this way: They are taking drivers off the road by freeing dozens of parents from driving their kids to school. They also have to maintain a schedule, just like public transportation.


What about Empty Buses?

Yes, empty buses qualify as carpools. The HOV lane was also created to keep buses on time, and although there are no passengers, they must still keep a schedule.

Are Semi Trucks Allowed in the HOV Lane?

Generally, yes. If a semi truck has two or more people in it, then it counts as a high occupancy vehicle. However, many states have laws against weight limits in the left most lanes, where HOV lanes usually sit. In Washington state, the limit is 10,000 pounds. Buses are exempt from this limit.

Can I use the Carpool Lane to Pass?

Not unless your vehicle is HOV eligible. Washington state observes the "Keep Right Except to Pass" law on freeways; the person ahead of you who is driving slowly in the left-most general use lane is breaking the law. Don't break the law just to evade them; that is no excuse to law enforcement.


Is my Hybrid or Electric Vehicle Exempt from Carpool Laws?

No, it is not exempt from the laws which govern the HOV lane. Although carpool lanes are considered "green," their main purpose is to reduce congestion and increase the flow of traffic. It doesn't matter how much emission your vehicle puts out, you still aren't improving traffic congestion by driving your EEV solo.


Can an Empty Vanpool use the HOV Lane?

Typically, yes, if it is an official Vanpool certified by your state's department of transportation. Vanpools are considered like buses in that they have to keep a schedule, even if you are personally driving the van, and haven't yet picked up the other passengers. Washington state certifies Vanpools to groups of carpoolers with five or more people. If you are interested in obtaining a Vanpool, check with your state's department of transportation to see if you qualify.

Happy Carpooling!

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