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Thousands of drivers report HOV violations every year

A Washington State Patrol trooper pulled over a man in March who tried to cheat the HOV system by placing a cardboard cutout of Jonathan Goldsmith, best known these days as "the most interesting man in the world" in Dos Equis beer commercials. (Washington State Patrol photo)

You’ve seen the HOV Hero program signs on the freeway asking you to call in violators, but does anyone really use that number?

Those white signs have been sitting on the side of the freeways in Washington for 31 years, a reminder that other drivers are always watching to make sure you have the proper number of people in your car.

Related: Driver tries to cheat HOV system with Dos Equis spokesman cutout

Travis Phelps, with the Washington State Department of Transportation who also happens to be the voice of the HOV Hero phone line, said that number is still getting a lot of action.

“I think in the last two years or so, we received a total of 44,000 calls,” Phelps. “There were a lot of folks who emailed violations as well &#8212 we’ve received about a 1,000 or so in that time frame.”

The program was never designed for solo drivers to pick up a phone, and of course, that is illegal unless you have a hands free device, but Phelps said a lot of ride-sharers use the line.

“We still have a lot of folks who are riding shotgun in carpools and vanpools picking up the phone and saying ‘Hey, I’m spotting what I think is a cheater and I want to let folks know about it.'”

So what happens if someone calls in your license plate?

“The Washington State DOT is not an enforcement agency,” Phelps said. “You can’t get a ticket because someone calls you in.”

First-time offenders receive an educational brochure in the mail. Second-time offenders will get a letter from the WSDOT. On the third time, the State Patrol will send a letter.

Phelps said the state tracks the data.

“We’re able to target hotspots – areas where carpoolers are reporting other folks who are in the carpool lanes. We’ll share that with the State Patrol and they can put some extra enforcement there.”

Current hotspots for violations include the entire stretch of I-405 between Renton and I-90, the First Avenue Bridge, and the ramps to I-5 from 175th in Shoreline.

The State Patrol issued more than 7,600 HOV violation tickets last year during targeted enforcement.

You can also use the HOV Hero line to report drivers who cut in the ferry line. The most popular route for violators is the Mukilteo-Clinton run.

Drivers can also call the HOV Hero line to dispute whether they were in violation or mistakenly reported.

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