HOV / Carpool Lane Violations in Orange County, California

Rules of the Road for Solo Drivers in HOV (Carpool) Lanes: 21655.5b CVC

High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, also known as carpool lanes, were introduced a number of years ago to encourage carpooling. The goal was many-faceted: to alleviate traffic congestion, conserve fuel, and lessen the air pollution that results from vehicle emissions. Although the establishment of HOV lanes was a well-intentioned idea, there are those who complain that the carpool lanes are underused during certain times, impeding rather than increasing the flow of traffic.

California Vehicle Code section 21655.5 regulates single vehicle occupant in designated HOV carpool lanes as noted below:

The Department of Transportation and local authorities, with respect to highways under their respective jurisdictions, shall place and maintain, or cause to be placed and maintained, signs and other official traffic control devices to designate the exclusive or preferential lanes, to advise motorists of the applicable vehicle occupancy levels, and, except where ramp metering and bypass lanes are regulated with the activation of traffic signals, to advise motorists of the hours of high-occupancy vehicle usage. A person shall not drive a vehicle upon those lanes except in conformity with the instructions imparted by the official traffic control devices.

A motorcycle, a mass transit vehicle, a blood transport vehicle that is clearly and identifiably marked as such on all sides of the vehicle, or a paratransit vehicle that is clearly and identifiably marked on all sides of the vehicle with the name of the paratransit provider may be operated upon those exclusive or preferential use lanes unless specifically prohibited by a traffic control device.

Because of the strict requirements pertaining to the use of HOV lanes and the specific places such lanes may be legally entered and exited, a large number of drivers receive very expensive tickets for HOV violations. If you find yourself ticketed for an HOV violation in Southern California, you should consider your options before automatically pleading guilty and paying the high accompanying fees. Your best choice is to contact CheapTrafficAttorneys.com. Our practice is dedicated to defending you from traffic tickets, including those involving HOV or carpool lane infractions.

Who is legally permitted to use HOV lanes in California?

Generally speaking, HOV lanes are permitted to be used by:

  • Vehicles with multiple human passengers
  • Motorcycles (with or without a passenger)
  • Mass transit and paratransit vehicles (clearly marked as such on all sides)
  • Vehicles with Clean Air Vehicle Stickers (low emission vehicles)

California Clean Air Vehicle Stickers

Clean Air Sticker vehicles include those powered by compressed natural gas, electric batteries, and hydrogen fuel cell electric engines, or some combination of electricity and gasoline or diesel fuel. The California Air Resources Board (known as the CARB or ARB) publishes a list of vehicles that qualify for the California Clean Air Vehicle Sticker making that vehicle eligible for the HOV lane access throughout California.

If you are thinking about purchasing or leasing a vehicle with a Clean Air Sticker, be sure to familiarize yourself with the new (effective 2019) RED Sticker requirements as explained on the California Air Resources Board website

As a general rule, any vehicle that was previously issued a GREEN or WHITE Sticker prior to January 1, 2017, will not be eligible for the new RED Sticker.

To determine eligibility, use this two-prong test:

First question: Is the vehicle on the CARB list of eligible vehicles? If yes, then proceed to the second question.

Second question: Was the vehicle issued a GREEN or WHITE Sticker prior to January 1, 2017? If no, then the vehicle qualifies for a RED Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) Sticker. Two hypothetical examples of this follows:

EXAMPLE 1: Mr. Tech lives in San Jose and bought a 2017 Tesla model S brand new in September 2016 for his commute through Silicon Valley. It cost him $130,000 with all the bells and whistles. He applied for and was issued a WHITE carpool sticker from the California DMV in November 2016. Although his vehicle is on the list of eligible vehicles, Mr. Tech’s 2017 Tesla will NOT qualify for the new RED Sticker pursuant to CVC sections 5205.5 and 21655.9 because his vehicle was issued a WHITE sticker prior to January 1, 2017. Mr. Tech’s WHITE sticker expires on January 1, 2019 and cannot be renewed under the current law.

EXAMPLE 2: Ms. Scientist lives in Irvine and bought a used 2013 Honda Natural Gas Civic in July 2018 to commute to El Segundo up the 405 freeway carpool lane. It cost her $8,000. The vehicle had never been issued Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) Stickers Previously. Based on the current law and the CARB interpretations, Ms. Scientist’s 2013 Honda Natural Gas Civic WILL qualify for the new RED Sticker pursuant to CVC sections 5205.5 and 21655.9 because her vehicle was not issued a WHITE or GREEN sticker prior to January 1, 2017 AND it is a qualifying vehicle on the CARB list.

Complexities of the Laws Surrounding HOV Lane Usage

One of the things that makes HOV lanes a source of confusion for many drivers is that the rules regarding their usage vary not only among states, but between Northern and Southern California. While in Northern California most HOV lanes only operate during posted hours of peak congestion and at all other times may be used by all vehicles, the rules in Southern California are much more restrictive. In Southern California, HOV lanes are generally separated from other lanes by a buffer zone, and the majority are in effect 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. There are few HOV lanes in Southern California that only have multiple occupant lane restrictions during posted days/hours. No matter what may be the rational reason for this discrepancy, drivers unfamiliar with the different geographically determined rules may unintentionally disobey the local laws and be confronted with law enforcement officials who ticket them regardless.

How CheapTrafficAttorneys.com Can Help

CheapTrafficAttorneys is well-practiced in defending clients from HOV infractions. Over our years in practice, CheapTrafficAttorneys has successfully represented over 10,000 clients, saving those clients many millions in fines and increased insurance costs. Submit your ticket information now to be contacted about your case.

Rules of the Road in Unlawful Entry/Exit HOV (Carpool) Lanes: 21655.8a CVC

Just as there are strict rules about which vehicles are permitted to drive HOV lanes, there are stringent laws regarding where a vehicle may enter or exit such lanes. Such regulations are clearly spelled out in the California Vehicle Code.

  • (a) Except as required under subdivision (b), when exclusive or preferential use lanes for high-occupancy vehicles are established pursuant to Section 21655.5 and double parallel solid lines are in place to the right thereof, no person driving a vehicle may cross over these double lines to enter into or exit from the exclusive or preferential use lanes, and entrance or exit may be made only in areas designated for these purposes or where a single broken line is in place to the right of the exclusive or preferential use lanes.
  • (b) Upon the approach of an authorized emergency vehicle displaying a red light or siren, as specified in Section 21806, a person driving a vehicle in an exclusive or preferential use lane shall exit that lane immediately upon determining that the exit can be accomplished with reasonable safety.
  • (c) Raised pavement markers may be used to simulate painted lines described in this section.

There are specific regulations concerning how you may enter and exit HOV lanes and many drivers are ticketed for illegal lane changes as well as for driving solo in a carpool lane in an unapproved vehicle. If you receive tickets for both offenses, the fines are very high. You are only permitted to enter or exit an HOV lane marked by a single broken lane line to the right of the HOV lane. Pursuant to 21655.8(a) CVC, it is always unlawful to cross the marked double solid parallel lines (of any color) of a carpool lane.

It is important to be aware that you are required to drive at the same 65-mph speed limit (or 70-mph where appropriately marked) whether you are in the HOV lane or not. The HOV lane does not permit passing and it is never necessary to increase your speed to please the driver behind you. Tailgating (Following Too Close) is as illegal in the HOV lane as it is on any other part of the highway.

Penalties for Carpool/HOV Violations in California

As previously noted, you can be ticketed both for driving solo in the wrong vehicle in the HOV lane and for entering or exiting the lane at an improper location. Police officers commonly cite drivers for both violations. Each infraction, when penalty assessments are added to basic fines will total about $490 each! Even though a carpool violation is not considered a moving violation and does not result in a point on your license, with almost $1,000 at stake, consulting with CheapTrafficAttorneys.com is certainly to your advantage.

Southern California Carpool/HOV Violation Attorneys

It is never easy to make a case that convinces the court that law enforcement was wrong in issuing you a ticket. There are, however, explanations that may be offered in your defense, such as that the signs and/or markings on the pavement were unclear and therefore confusing to the average person. It is also possible that the prosecution has not proved its case and the charges will be dismissed by the court. In addition, you may also have other reasons for entering or exiting the HOV at an improper place. You may have had a medical or other emergency that required that you exit the roadway immediately. You may have been avoiding an obstacle, animal, or pedestrian, or you may have felt threatened by an aggressive driver following you too closely.

At trial, there is always the inherent risk that the Judge will find a person guilty. Therefore, perhaps most importantly, in some courts (not all) CheapTrafficAttorneys.com may be able to get the charge changed to a 0 point violation to avoid the driver’s license and insurance consequences of an Unlawful Entry/Exit HOV (Carpool) Lanes violation conviction.

CheapTrafficAttorneys.com will support your defense energetically, giving you the best chance of a successful outcome. Please call us or fill out a contact form on our website to receive a prompt reply.