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Setting the ground rules for HOV lanes

(KIRO 7)

Drivers continue to ask questions about HOV lanes and left-lane camping, especially because some of our HOV lanes in Puget Sound are not always HOV lanes.

13.5K left-lane campers pulled over in 2017

Let’s set the ground rules. An HOV lane, by law and definition, is not a general purpose lane. The left-lane camping rule does not apply to HOV lanes.

“It’s [HOV lane] not counted as a general purpose lane, and the law applies to the general purpose lanes for left-lane camping,” Washington State Trooper Rick Johnson said. “It is a restricted lane. Unfortunately, there are some people that believe that is the left lane.”

In other words, HOV lanes are not a fast lane.

But what happens when the HOV lane is no longer an HOV lane? Take, for example, I-405 between Bellevue and Renton. The HOV lane is only an HOV lane between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. It is open to all drivers the rest of the time.

“That HOV lane is still not the left lane, and so you just pretend like it doesn’t exist, in essence, when you’re thinking about that left lane law,” Trooper Johnson said.

Compounding matters even more are the express toll lanes. They are restricted lanes and not subject to the left-lane camping law, but what happens when they open to all between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.? Just like the section of HOV lane from Bellevue to Renton after hours, the toll lanes are still restricted lanes, and you have a double-white line on the road. Whether the toll lanes are open to all or not, drivers cannot cross that double white line legally.

But does the left-lane camping law apply when there are two express toll lanes?

“If you don’t need to be in that lane and you’re not actively passing, just get into the next ETL lane,” Trooper Johnson said. “That will avoid any kind of aggravation by other drivers.”

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