Is California’s Diamond Lane A Secret Passing Lane?

by on March 30, 2015

in consumer

CA HOV Lanes

CA Carpool Lanes Are only semi-effective when carpools actually use them.

The other week I was in the unique position to observe just how few people in the carpool lane were actually carpooling. What the hell is that about?


Aside from all the electric cars and qualifying stickers that these and like cars can have, an HOV Lane is:

High Occupancy Vehicle” lane, or car-pool lane. The central concept for HOV lanes is to move more people rather than more cars. Some HOV lanes carry almost half of the people carried on the entire freeway. Regular “mixed-flow” lanes are never converted to HOV lanes. Rather, HOV lanes are always added to existing facilities. Each vehicle that travels on an HOV lane must carry the minimum number of people posted at the entrance signs. Usually that means at least two people, or in some cases three people. Each child counts as an occupant, but pets, infants still in the womb, inflatable dolls or ghosts do not (we’ve heard ’em all). Violators are subject to a minimum $481 fine. Exceptions: Motorcycles, even those carrying just one person, are allowed to use the HOV lanes. Some HOV lanes are in operation only during certain hours, which are posted. Outside of those hours, they may be used by all vehicles.

{ dot.ca.gov }

Carpooling… IN MY MIND, is the consolidation of multiple qualified or eligible drivers into a single car to save gas, time, money and the environment. My clarification is “qualified driver.”

One of my long-time disgruntlements about carpooling is that children are counted as a carpool occupant. Despite that child not being a qualified driver, I do not understand how counting children in a car as carpooling, or how that can attribute to better air quality, but that’s just me.

Let’s get back on point…

Last week and the week before I was counting cars while tackling my 50-mile drive. I usually take the train. Sometimes though I get a ride home with a friend and sometimes, due to extenuating circumstances, I’ll drive in.

The one thing I’ve noticed is that there are quite a few folks in that diamond lane that are solo drivers and are NOT in qualifying, electric cars with those qualified, exempt stickers. (Where I live in NorCal, they  have hours on the HOV lane so that during non-peak driving times anyone can use the lane. These observations are during peak driving hours.)

On one morning drive in, I counted 45 cars that passed me, and 8 were carpooling or in qualifying electric or hybrid vehicles or on a motorcycle. On three other drives I could look around and see that I was constantly surrounded by single-driver cars.

Yep… Eight. And it seems there is a continual, rampant misuse of the resource.

At this point in time enforcement is near to nothing and rightfully understandable because that could cost money that the state does not have to post CHP to hover over the carpool lanes.

It is frustrating and curious all at once that so many people have no qualm to use the HOV lane for their own purposes. Some of the time folks use it to just pass a slow-poke in the “fast” lane, other times, folks seem so comfortable screaming up the lane for their own private “hurry” lane in an indefinite period of time.

The one thing the the HOV lane says about drivers is that either smart or conscientious folks are willing to carpool or those with the bucks to buy hybrids and/or pay for those cool extra single-use lanes that some freeway systems have are the ‘chosen’ ones. The ones allowed to use the HOV lane. My 50-mile route does not have any of these special pay lanes where single occupant cars can travel if they pay for it.

It is interesting how different processes are always converted over to special pay permissions. After 9-11, security was paramount. Now special customers who pay extra can skip scanners. And if you pay a special fee, you can drive alone in HOV lanes.

Interesting place we make around here, ain’t it? Any way, this is the consumer observation of the week.

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