Q: What happens when you use an online Washington State Department of Transportation form to report someone who is using the HOV lane with only one person? Brittany D., Tacoma
A: It can make your blood boil, can’t it?
There you are, grinding through stop-and-go traffic, when somebody driving solo zooms past in the car-pool lane.
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On some days, you might just let it go, but not today. Today, you’re making a report, either online or through the state’s toll-free phone number, 1-800-764-HERO.
Here, state, here’s that selfish person’s license plate number and the time, date and location of the offense.
So you, like Brittany, might then ask, “What happens next?”
We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters were surprised to learn something actually does happen, and that the Transportation Department’s so-called HERO program has become a national model for dealing with HOV scofflaws.
From the agency’s website:
“We will then mail educational materials about HOV, HOT lane and ferry line usage to the registered owner of the vehicle that was seen violating.
“First-time HOV lane violators are sent an educational brochure. Second-time HOV violators are sent a letter from WSDOT. Third-time HOV violators are sent a letter from the Washington State Patrol.”
Ferry line violators (folks who cut into line) get a letter from Washington State Ferries and then a letter from the Washington State Patrol.
Now, we know what some of you might be thinking: That’s it, a series of letters? No citations? No drone strikes?
No, but the Transportation Department reports the educational materials seem to be doing the trick.
Washington has an average car-pool violation rate of 1 to 7 percent. The national average is 10 to 15 percent, according to state figures.
Of those identified as being a violator in Washington, only about 5 percent repeat.
More numbers: the Transportation Department mailed 29,834 educational brochures to violators during the years 2013-15. The agency mailed only 963 warning letters.
So reporting violators appears to make a difference.
The information gets used another way, as well.
“When large numbers of cheaters are reported at specific locations, we share the information with the Washington State Patrol to help them target enforcement emphasis,” the Transportation Department says.
Some hot spots include:
▪ The Interstate 5 reversible express lanes in Seattle.
▪ I-405 between state Route 167 and Interstate 90.
▪ State Route 509 at the First Avenue Bridge.
“We started the program in 1984 as a way to encourage drivers to self-enforce HOV lane rules,” according to the Transportation Department. “It is now a nationally recognized program which has served as a role model for similar programs in other states.”
HERO program by the numbers, 2013-15
- License plates reported to state Department of Transportation: 44,312
- Educational brochures sent to drivers: 29,834
- Average number of monthly called-in reports: 1,076
- Average number of monthly online reports: 757
- HOV citations issued by Washington State Patrol in 2014: 7,653
Source: State Department of Transportation