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Virginia is known more for being a beautiful state with a lot of history, than a busy state with a lot of business. But there are a lot of big cities in Virginia, and every day a large number of residents commute into those cities to go to work. Virginia’s major freeways aid a lot of people in commuting to and from work every morning and every evening, and a lot of these drivers take advantage of the state’s car pool lanes to circumvent traffic while commuting.
Car pool lanes are lanes on the freeway that are only for vehicles with more than one occupant. Usually vehicles with only a solo driver are not allowed in the car pool lanes, though there are some exceptions in Virginia, as will be covered here. The majority of cars on the freeway only have one occupant, which means that the car pool lanes are relatively free of congestion. As such, the vehicles in the car pool lane are able to operate at a high freeway speed, even when the general use freeway lanes are stuck in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. This high efficiency, high speed lane rewards all the drivers who opt to ride share on their way to work, and it encourages other drivers to carpool as well. As more drivers carpool, more cars are removed from the roads. This decreases traffic for everyone on the freeway, reduces harmful carbon emissions, and limits the damage that is done to Virginia’s roads (which, as a result, means fewer road repair costs for taxpayers). Add it all up and it becomes clear that the car pool lane offers some of the most important features and rules given the time and money it can save drivers, and the benefits it has for the road and the environment.
It’s important to follow all traffic laws, and that includes the car pool lane traffic laws, which result in a large fine when broken. Every state has different rules for their car pool lanes, so it’s important to observe Virginia’s laws which, thankfully, are very straightforward.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Virginia has more than 60 miles of car pool lanes, and they’re spread out across the state’s largest freeways. The car pool lanes are always on the far left side of the freeway, next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The lanes stay attached to the general use lanes at all times. Occasionally you can exit the freeway directly from the car pool lane, but most of the time you will have merge over to the far right lane in order to get off the freeway.
The car pool lanes in Virginia are marked by signs, which will be placed next to the freeway, and above the lanes. These signs will note that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or they will simply have an image of a diamond on them. The diamond symbol will also be painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
The rules for the car pool lanes vary depending on what freeway you’re on, and what county you are driving in. Most of Virginia’s car pool lanes require drivers to have a minimum of two occupants, including the driver. However, there are a few car pool lanes where the minimum number of occupants is three. Even though car pool lanes were created to encourage employees to carpool to work together, there are no limits as to who qualifies for the car pool lane. If you are driving with your children or your friends, you are still allowed to be in the car pool lane.
Virginia has a few freeways that are express lanes as well as car pool lanes. In express lanes, solo drivers can pay a fee for the right to drive in the car pool lane. These drivers have to create an express account, and then a transponder inside their vehicle charges their account whenever they are in the express lane. The transponder can be turned off if the driver has the minimum number of occupants required for the car pool lane, so that they’re not charged to legally carpool.
Since the car pool lanes were created to make commuting easier for workers, the car pool lanes are only open during peak traffic hours. Rush hour changes depending on the freeway, so there’s no one set time when all of the car pool lanes are open. Instead, the time when the car pool lane is open will be posted on the signs above the lanes. When the car pool lanes are not open, they become general use lanes again, and vehicles with only one occupant are free to use them as they please.
Some of the car pool lanes in Virginia have limited areas where you can enter or exit. If the lane is separated from the general use lanes by solid lines or a barrier, then you cannot merge into or merge out of the car pool lane. If the car pool lane is separated by a checkered line, then you can enter and exit as you see fit.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
In addition to cars that have the minimum number of required occupants, and cars that have express accounts, there are a few other vehicles that are allowed to drive in the car pool lanes. Motorcycles can operate in the car pool lane even with a single occupant, because they are small and fast, and therefore don’t add congestion to the lane. It’s also much safer for motorcycles to be driving at a high freeway speed than at a bumper to bumper pace.
Select alternative fuel vehicles are also allowed to drive in the car pool lane with only one occupant. However, these vehicles must first get a Clean Fuel license plate, so that law enforcement knows that the car is permitted to be in the car pool lane. To see if your vehicle qualifies, check out the list of eligible alternate fuel vehicles on the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles website. You can also use this site to purchase the Clean Fuel plate, though it comes with a $25 fee. However, if the plate was issued after July 1, 2006, then you will not be able to use it to drive on I-95 or I-395. And if the plate was issued after July 1, 2011, you will not be allowed on I-66 (unless, of course, you have the minimum number of occupants).
There are a few vehicles that cannot drive in the car pool lane, even if they have two or more occupants. The car pool lanes operate as the fast lanes, so if a vehicle cannot legally or safely drive at a high freeway speed, it cannot drive in the car pool lane. Motorcycles with trailers, trucks towing large items, and RVs are examples of these vehicles.
Buses and emergency vehicles that are on call are exempt from all car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
Both police and highway patrol officers can ticket you if you are illegally driving in the car pool lane. If you are on the Hampton Road car pool lanes, you will be fine $100 for every offense. If you are on the Northern Virginia car pool lanes, then you will receive a $125 fine for your first offense, a $250 fine for your second offense, a $500 fine for your third offense, and a $1000 fine for your fourth offense (with potential license suspensions following the fourth offense). You will also receive three points on your driving record for every offense, starting with your second one.
If you attempt to trick officers by placing a dummy, cut out, or mannequin in your passenger seat to look like a second occupant, you will be given a hefty fine, and potentially face a license suspension or minor jail time.
Car pool lanes can save drivers a lot of time and money. As long as you obey all of the rules, you can get right to taking advantage of everything car pool lane has to offer.
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