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Utah may be better known for its landscapes and scenic drives than its urban areas, but a large percentage of the state’s residents work in Salt Lake City (or other large cities), and rely on Utah’s major freeways to get to work every morning, and get home every evening. Freeways make commuting possible for many Utah drivers, and some of them are able to utilize the state’s many car pool lanes.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes that are only for vehicles carrying multiple occupants. In general, vehicles with only one occupant cannot drive in car pool lanes, though Utah has some exceptions that will be covered here. Since most vehicles on the freeway have only one occupant, the car pool lanes are able to stay relatively empty, which allows them to operate at a high speed, even when the general lanes are stuck in stop and go rush hour traffic. This added speed and efficiency is a reward for those who choose to ride share, and helps encourage other people to carpool to work as well. As more and more people carpool, more cars are removed from the road, which means less traffic for everyone, reduced carbon emissions, and less damage to Utah’s freeways (which results in fewer road repairs costs for taxpayers). People who use the car pool lane are able to save lots of time and money, as well as the hassle of sitting in traffic, and the benefits extend beyond them as well.
As with all traffic laws, the rules of the car pool lane should always be observed, both for your safety, and so you can avoid a pricey violation. Each state has different car pool lane rules, so make sure you understand the laws in Utah. Thankfully, they’re straightforward and simple.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Utah has various car pool lanes, but they all are on I-15, just at different areas. The car pool lanes will always be the furthest left lanes, and will be next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The lanes always run side by side with the general lanes, though sometimes you will be able to exit the freeway on the left hand side, directly from the car pool lane. Most of the time, however, you have to merge back to the furthest right lane if you want to get off the freeway.
Utah’s car pool lanes are noted by signs, which are usually directly above the lanes, but sometimes on the side of the freeway. Among other things, these signs will say that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or may have an image of a diamond on them. The car pool lane itself will also have an image of a diamond painted on it.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In order to qualify for the car pool lanes in Utah, you have to have a minimum of two occupants in your vehicle, including the driver. Even though car pool lanes are designed to encourage ride sharing between employees heading to work, there aren’t actually any limitations on who counts as an occupant when you are carpooling. If you are driving around with your friend or your child, you can still legally drive in the car pool lane.
In Utah, car pool lanes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even if there is no severe traffic, the car pool lane is still for carpoolers, and not an all-access lane.
All of Utah’s car pool lanes double as express toll lanes. Express toll lanes allow solo drivers to pay a fee in order to drive in the same lane as the carpoolers. If you do not qualify for the car pool lane, you can drive in the same lane as long as you have an Express Pass transponder. This transponder will charge you whenever you are in the car pool lane, so you have to be sure to turn it off if you have a second occupant in your vehicle, or else you will be charged. The price of driving in the car pool lane with an Express Pass varies depending on how congested the freeway is; the worse the traffic, the higher the price. This helps regulate the amount of drivers that are in the car pool lane, so that carpoolers don’t get stuck in traffic. The current cost of the area that you are driving in will be listed on the electric portion of the car pool lane sign. When the sign says “HOV Only”, then you cannot be in the lane with an Express Pass.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
Cars with two or more occupants, and solo drivers with Express Pass transponders are not the only people that are allowed to drive in the car pool lanes. Motorcycles are permitted in the car pool lanes, even if they have only one occupant, because they are quick and small, and therefore don’t add any congestion to the car pool lane. Motorcycles are also a lot safer when driving at a fast freeway speed than at a bumper to bumper traffic speed.
Certain alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars) are also allowed in the car pool lane, even with only one occupant. However, you cannot simply drive an alternative fuel vehicle in the car pool lane and get away with it; first you need to receive a C (for Clean Fuel) decal. At the moment Utah limits how many C decals they give away, as they are still in the pilot phase of this green initiative. To try and get a C decal you must apply through the Utah Department of Transportation, where you will be waitlisted. Drivers are then chosen at random to receive a C decal when they become available. To see if your vehicle is eligible for this exemption, check the list of qualifying vehicles at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Not all vehicles with multiple occupants are allowed in the car pool lane. Since the car pool and express lanes operate as the fast lanes on the freeway, you have to be able to safely and legally maintain a high speed in order to be in the lanes. For instance, vehicles such as motorcycles with trailers, semis, and trucks with large items in tow are not allowed in the car pool lane. However, if you are pulled over for driving one of these vehicles in the car pool lane you will likely receive a warning rather than a ticket, as this rule is not explicitly stated on the car signs.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
The fine for driving in the car pool lane with only one occupant, and no Express Pass can vary depending on the county you’re in, and how severe the traffic is when you were illegally in the lane. In general, a car pool lane violation comes with a $162 ticket, though you will usually be charged a larger amount if you are a repeat offender (and if you repeat the offense frequently enough, you will have your license suspended).
Drivers who try to trick officers by placing a mannequin, cut out, or dummy in their vehicle as a second occupant will be subject to larger penalties.
Using the car pool lanes can save you a lot of time and money, and also a lot of stress. It’s worth taking the time to learn Utah’s car pool lane rules so that you can get straight to utilizing everything that the lanes have to offer.
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