Traffic

‘Make a friend.’ Troopers warn that increased fines for HOV lane cheaters start Sunday

Troopers aren’t dummies. HOV cheaters caught using mannequins will pay dearly

Trooper Johnna Batiste discusses how the fine for motorists without at least one other person in the car will increase from $136 to $186 starting Sunday. Tack on another $200 if you attempt to cheat using a mannequin.
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Trooper Johnna Batiste discusses how the fine for motorists without at least one other person in the car will increase from $136 to $186 starting Sunday. Tack on another $200 if you attempt to cheat using a mannequin.

Do you get frustrated or enraged when you’re stuck in traffic and a driver in an otherwise empty car breezes past in the carpool lane?

Starting Sunday, you may get some relief as cheaters in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes recalculate the risks of paying higher fines under state law. If time is money, how much are they willing to spend?

The fine for motorists without at least one other person in the car will increase from $136 to $186.

A second violation within two years carries a $336 fine.

Those caught with a dummy or a mannequin will have $200 tacked onto their ticket.

HOV lanes, also known as diamond or carpool lanes, are reserved for buses, vanpools, carpools, motorcycles or any vehicle carrying two or more people.

“Fur babies don’t count. Human babies do,” said Trooper Johnna Batiste, spokeswoman for State Patrol District 1 that covers Pierce and Thurston counties.

The higher fines are in response to a large number of complaints from law-abiding motorists who spot violators, frequently during rush hours. That’s also the time when troopers are responding to fender benders and more serious accidents that take them away from enforcement.

HOV lanes are a “reliable, efficient way” for motorists to cut down on their time spent commuting, said Batiste, adding, “we encourage drivers to use that legally and if you don’t, then you’re most likely going to see one of us.”

For 90 minutes Friday morning, The News Tribune rode along with Batiste as she cruised the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 and state Route 16 in Pierce County. No one was nabbed, but it was an opportunity to discuss how HOV lanes reveal contrasts in human behavior.

“A lot of people are honest when they get caught,” Batiste said. “They say, ‘It saves me so much time.’ So to save that 20 to 30 minutes on their commute, they take a personal risk. But the purpose of an HOV lane is help keep traffic flow open.”

Others don’t have a reason or don’t want to offer one.

“There are rule followers and rule breakers,” Batiste said.

Batiste recalled pulling over a man who was “tooling along” I-5 about 11 a.m. on a weekday. There hadn’t been an accident. Traffic wasn’t heavy.

“He had no explanation,” said Batiste, who has been a state trooper for six years — the first five as a full-time road trooper and one year as a public information officer who also can handle crashes and make traffic stops.

The question is whether the higher fines will discourage motorists from taking that risk of getting caught.

Last year, the Patrol issued 13,448 tickets statewide for HOV violations and gave 5,832 warnings.

For those who want to cut down on their commute time by using the HOV lane, Batiste’s advice is “make a friend.”

James Drew covers the state Legislature and state government for McClatchy’s Washington papers: The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and The Tri-City Herald.
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