Nov 09

Jon Zimmerman

Washington State Patrol Emphasizes HOV Traffic Tickets

by Jon Zimmerman

Traffic tickets for driving in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane are very common on Highway 520 and interstates such as I-90, I-405, and I-5 in the State of Washington, where the Washington State Patrol is out in force looking to pull people over and cite them with HOV infractions. In fact, this type of offense has become so popular with the police and the public that Seattle Times staff reporter Christina Clarridge recently wrote a story about “Mad Dog,” the license plate and nickname of an alleged persistent HOV offender, HOV tickets, and how the public works with Washington State government and law enforcement to make sure more HOV tickets are issued. 

Although the State Patrol, through its spokesman, apparently doesn’t put a high priority on HOV offenders (translation: the State Patrol doesn’t want to admit that they put a high priority on HOV tickets), the State of Washington contributes significant resources to HOV lanes, keeping track of alleged violators, and making sure tickets are issued, especially in King County. In case you were wondering, this is where your highway tax dollars go. 

HOV-lane tickets are a bit unusual in that the State of Washington encourages the public to call a phone number, 877-764-HERO—also known as the HERO hotline—in order to report the license plates of alleged HOV-lane offenders. The phone number has been in existence since 1984 and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) accepts reports of alleged HOV violators, runs license plates of reported violator vehicles, and then mails brochures and letters to the owners of the vehicles (which may or may not be the drivers). WSDOT also reports license plates to the Washington State Patrol so that the police can be on the lookout for frequently reported vehicles.   

Although the police can cite any driver they observe unlawfully in an HOV lane, calls to the HERO line do not result in the issuance of a citation. On the first complaint, WSDOT sends a brochure, followed by a letter after the second complaint. On the third complaint, the Washington State Patrol sends a letter. The article states that

Typically the police cite drivers under RCW 46.61.165, the HOV lane statute, when the police view an individual driving as a single occupant in a restricted, HOV lane with diamond markings, but also when there are two occupants in a lane restricted to three occupants. 

In fact, I get a lot of phone calls about HOV tickets. Most of the time drivers ask me if tickets for driving in the HOV are moving violations. Indeed, in Washington, HOV infractions are moving offenses that affect a person’s insurance and driving privilege, just like a speeding ticket or failure to yield violation. 

If you have received an HOV ticket and want to fight it, contact me by e-mail or by phone.  


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