Traffic

Traffic Q&A: Could I get a ticket for impeding traffic by driving the speed limit in the carpool lane?

Driving the speed limit in the carpool lane? It’s possible.
Driving the speed limit in the carpool lane? It’s possible. Staff file

Q: Could I be ticketed for impeding traffic if I’m holding up other motorists by driving the speed limit in the HOV lanes? – Tom A., Tacoma

A: In the spirit of transparency, we must confess to boiling down and sanitizing Tom’s question just a bit.

His missive to Traffic Q&A headquarters went on for a few paragraphs and was, as he described it, “more of a rant than a question.”

Tom wrote, in part:

“My observation is that the de facto speed limit on I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle is between 80 and 85 mph. If I were to use the carpool lane at 70 mph, there is no doubt that I would be getting cussed out for impeding traffic while breaking the speed limit. Could the State Patrol give me a ticket for both?”

Tom also wondered whether carpoolers who chose not just to cuss him but to whip around him in the general-purpose lanes would be subject to a citation for passing on the right.

“Thanks for listening,” he concluded.

You betcha, Tom!

But we did more than listen. We did research, part of which was contacting Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol.

We first asked Prouty about the speeding/impeding traffic issue.

The good sergeant told us exceeding the speed limit in the carpool lane is still speeding, and that a driver could be cited for doing so.

OK, so drive the speed limit in the carpool lane. Got it.

But what about this “impeding” issue?

“If he is traveling AT the posted speed limit in the carpool lane, he would not be cited for impeding traffic,” Prouty said. In his email to us, Prouty all-capped and bolded that “at,” by the way.

For elaboration, the trooper included a citation to RCW 46.61.425, titled, “Minimum speed regulation — Passing slow moving vehicle.”

Section (1) states:

“No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.”

Couple of things stood out to us: “reasonable movement of traffic” and “in compliance with law.” Complying with the 60 mph speed-limit signs seems both reasonable and lawful.

We next asked Prouty about passing on the right under the circumstances described by Tom.

“It is not illegal to pass on the right in those conditions,” the sergeant said. “If he was traveling in the carpool lanes at the posted speed limit and the other vehicles were passing him in the right lanes, only the vehicles that were exceeding the posted speed limit would be cited.”

Prouty included a citation to RCW 46.61.115, titled, “When overtaking on the right is permitted.”

Section (1)(b) seemed on point:

“Upon a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.”

I-5 between Tacoma and Seattle fits the bill.

Bottom line here, Tom, is that it seems legal and proper for you to drive the speed limit in the carpool lanes.

If those other drivers don’t like it, they can take their chances getting a speeding ticket, although not one for passing on the right.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam

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