What are the Car Pool Rules in Wisconsin?

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Wisconsin may be a relatively rural state, but it still has a fair share of large cities. Every weekday, tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens have to commute into Milwaukee, Green Bay, and other cities for work, and out of those cities to get back home. The majority of these residents heavily rely on the state’s major freeways to get them where they’re going. Some of them also take advantage of the car pool lanes, which allows them to bypass a lot of rush hour traffic.

Car pool lanes are lanes on the freeway that are only for vehicles with multiple occupants. Cars that only have a driver, and no passengers, are not allowed in the car pool lanes. Since the majority of vehicles on the freeway (especially during peak traffic hours) don’t have multiple occupants, the car pool lanes are able to almost entirely avoid congestion. This allows the vehicles in the car pool lane to drive at a high freeway speed, even when the general use freeway lanes are crawling in bumper to bumper traffic. The result is that those who opt to carpool to work are rewarded with a fast and efficient commute, and others are encouraged to start sharing rides.

As more drivers do this, the total number of cars on the roads is decreased, which lowers traffic for everyone, limits harmful carbon emissions, and reduces the amount of damage that is done to freeway roads (which, as a result, lowers the road repair costs for taxpayers). All things considered, the car pool lanes benefit tons of people every day, and not just those who are sharing rides.

All traffic laws are important, and car pool lanes are certainly no exception. Failure to properly use the car pool lane can diminish the rewards of the lane for carpoolers, and can result in a hefty fine, so always pay attention to the guidelines. The rules for car pool lanes change depending on what state you’re in, but they’re very easy to follow in Wisconsin.

Where are the car pool lanes?

The majority of Wisconsin’s car pool lanes are actually on the freeway on-ramps. Most on-ramps in Wisconsin feature stop light meters, which help regulate the flow of traffic merging onto the freeway. The on-ramp car pool lanes are directly next to the standard on-ramp lanes, and allow drivers to enter the freeway without slowing down for the stop light.

The rest of the car pool lanes in Wisconsin are on the far left side of the freeway, next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. These lanes will always stay attached to the general use lanes. The car pool lanes are marked by signs on the left side of the freeway, and directly above the lanes. These lanes will note that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or will simply have a symbol of a diamond. The diamond symbol is also painted directly on the car pool lanes.

What are the basic car pool lane rules?

Most car pool lanes in Wisconsin (including all of the on-ramp car pool lanes) require a minimum of two occupants, including the driver. There are a few lanes, however, that require a minimum of four occupants. Be sure to always read the car pool lane signs, as they will tell you how many occupants you need to drive in the lane. Even though car pool lanes were built to encourage carpooling to work, there are no limits on who your occupants can be. Even if you are just driving around with your children, you are eligible for the car pool lane as long as you have the minimum number of required people in your car.

Most of Wisconsin’s car pool lanes are only open during peak rush hours. These hours change depending on which freeway you’re on, and what direction you are driving in, so always read the car pool lane signs to see whether or not the lane is open. When car pool lanes are not open, they become general use lanes, and all drivers can be in them. On-ramp car pool lanes are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?

In addition to cars with the minimum number of occupants in them, there are a few other vehicles that are allowed on Wisconsin’s car pool lanes. Motorcycles can legally operate in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant. This is because motorcycles are easily capable of driving at high freeway speeds, and take up very little space, so they do not contribute to congestion in the lane. Bikes are also much safer when traveling at standard freeway speeds than when navigating through stop and go traffic.

Emergency vehicles that are on duty, and city buses are also exempt from car pool lane rules.

Many states allow alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrids) to drive in the car pool lane regardless of the number of occupants, to incentivize the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles. However, Wisconsin does not have these exemptions, but since they are growing in popularity that may soon change, so keep your eye open if you own an alternative fuel vehicle.

There are also a handful of vehicles that cannot drive in the car pool lane, even if they meet the required number of occupants. The car pool lane operates as the fast lane, so vehicles that are unable to safely and legally drive at high freeway speeds cannot be in the car pool lane. Examples of these vehicles include trucks with large items in tow, semis, and motorcycles with trailers. 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 clearly stated on the signs.

What are the car pool lane violation penalties?

The ticket for violating the car pool lane rules varies depending on the county you’re in, and whether you’re in a freeway car pool lane or an on-ramp car pool lane. In general, the tickets range from $50 to $150, though they will usually be higher for repeat offenders.

Drivers who attempt to trick police or highway patrol officers by placing a dummy, cut out, or mannequin in their passenger seat to appear as a second occupant will face heftier fines, and potentially even license suspension or jail time.

Using the car pool lane can save you a lot of time and money, as well as the headache of sitting in rush hour traffic. As long as you always follow the rules, you can immediately start taking advantage of all of the car pool lane benefits.


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