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Getting Tix on I-66

Dear Dr. Gridlock:
Is it legal for the police to impede traffic or bring it to a stop on an interstate highway merely to check for HOV compliance? That is basically what happened 29 May on westbound I-66 just inside the Beltway.

Traffic was backed up for almost a mile with a helicopter hovering overhead. All indications were that a serious accident had happened up ahead. Instead, the delay was merely because approximately a dozen police officers in cars and motorcycles were on both sides of the highway enforcing the HOV restrictions!
Bob Reinhardt

It is legal for police to enforce the HOV rules and ticket violators on the spot. Virginia State Police don't use a helicopter. That probably was a news crew checking out the scene.

HOV enforcement accounts for a big chunk of my mailbag, but I'd say most of the letters come from commuters who are angry about all the solo drivers they see in the carpool lanes. By and large, those writers clamor for more enforcement. The police hear from them, too, so they put these enforcement teams on the highways.

On the afternoon of May 29, the police cited 184 first, second and third-time HOV lane violoators at the I-66 exit for Route 7 West and at the 66 mile marker on I-66.

It was a multiple day operation. "Within three days, 241 first-time HOV offenders were cited for failing to obey HOV lane restrictions," First Sgt. James DeFord of the Virginia State Police Area 45 Office in Arlington said in a statement. "However, this doesn't mean that this was the first time these individuals violated the law. For a majority, this was the first time they'd been caught."

These are the fines for HOV violations: First offense, $125; second offense, $250; third offense, $500; fourth offense, $1,000.

Police also noted other problems, particularly driver's license and inspection sticker violations.

Anytime even a single cruiser pulls over a car anywhere, it's going to cause nearby traffic to slow down. With the exception of Route 50 in Maryland, our HOV lanes are restricted only during peak periods, so any enforcement is bound to create delays.

I'll write more about this in an upcoming Dr. Gridlock column, so I'd like to hear your opinions about enforcement of the rules. Please tell me what you think either here on the blog or by writing to me at (If you write to me for the newspaper column, please include your name and home community for the letter's sign-off, and a telephone number.)

By Robert Thomson  |  June 3, 2008; 9:08 AM ET
Categories:  highways  
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