Q: What exactly is the rule for carpool lanes? Does the two-plus or three-plus people requirement mean licensed drivers? — Cindy H., Tacoma
A: Cindy is not just curious. She has an agenda.
Let us let her vent.
“I’ve heard that the rule is strictly a quantity issue, that a single adult with kids qualifies,” she wrote to Traffic Q&A headquarters. “How is this carpooling? If you’re not taking a licensed driver out of their vehicle and ensuring one less automobile on the road, what is carpooling accomplishing? If quantity is the only requirement in our carpooling law, then the law should be changed.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Well, first things first.
It is strictly a quantity issue.
The law, WAC 468-510-010, specifies only the number of “occupants” needed to constitute lawful use of the carpool lanes. It does not specify ages of said occupants. It does not specify licensing requirements. It does not require anything, really, other than someone other than the driver being in the car.
So a baby born two days ago riding home with his ecstatic father can constitute a carpool as can the child’s exhausted mother and legally blind grandfather trailing in another car.
That’s provided they’re in a HOV lane where carpools of two-plus are allowed.
“Imagine how difficult it would be to enforce the HOV lanes if law enforcement officers had to verify whether passengers were licensed drivers,” said Claudia Bingham Baker, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation.
The Transportation Department also points out something on its website that might surprise some drivers.
“HOV lanes are designed to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles,” the department states. “They usually move more people than a general-purpose lane, even when they don’t look full.”
Moving people, not vehicles. Who knew?
“Studies show that HOV lanes encourage commuters to travel together,” according to the department. “Many people who do not usually drive alone on the freeway during rush hours would switch to solo freeway driving if the HOV lanes were opened to all traffic — including many of the people who are currently riding the bus, carpooling and vanpooling.”
Plus, that father with his kid in the carpool lane are not in a general-purpose lane with me, which seems like a good thing.
From the mailbag
The careful reader will recall that a few weeks back we addressed the age-old question of whether it is legal for a bicyclist to pedal to the head of the line at a stoplight.
Answer: We’re not sure.
Anyhoo, the subject matter generated a few heated missives from bicyclists who don’t much care for car drivers and car drivers who don’t much care for bicyclists.
One reader took the trouble of writing us a postcard and putting it into the snail mail. We print the verbiage here in its entirety, exclamation points and all:
“If cyclists want respect, they should behave like the vehicle they claim to be. For starters:
PAY TOLLS LIKE WE ALL DO!!
Stop flashing past us on the right, at stop signs and red lights!
Buy a license for your ‘vehicle.’
Pass a driver’s test prior to using public roadways.
Act like grownups, and we’ll respect your Spandex life choice!”
Seems that a chill pill is in order.
And “Spandex Life Choice” would be a great band name.