"High occupancy vehicle" lanes, popularly known as carpool or HOV lanes, are highway lanes reserved for vehicles carrying two or more people. Their purpose is to ease highway congestion, especially in large urban areas. California has numerous carpool lanes throughout the state and using them can relieve much of the stress that often comes with driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But first, make sure you're authorized to do so by having the proper vehicle or right number of passengers inside.
Minimum Occupancy Set for Carpool Lanes
Generally, two is the minimum number of people required in a vehicle traveling in the carpool lane. However, some carpool lanes require a minimum of three people. A child counts as a person but not animals, unborn children or inflatable dolls.
There Are Exceptions to HOV Rules
The minimum occupancy requirement is waived under certain circumstances. Motorcycles are permitted in carpool lanes, even if only one person is on the bike. If the carpool lane is only active during certain times of day, such as rush hour, one-person vehicles may use these lanes during hours not designated for carpool. If your vehicle has either a white or green clean air vehicle (CAV) decal from the Department of Motor Vehicles, you can drive solo in the carpool lane, unless signs along the roadway indicate it is prohibited in that area. Certain emergency response vehicles are also exempt from the multiple passenger requirement.
Hybrids, Electric Autos Qualify for CAV Decals
The DMV issues white or green CAV decals to hybrid, electric and other vehicles with the following emission types: ILEV (federal low-emission vehicle), SULEV (super ultra-low emission vehicle), ZEV (zero-emission vehicle), AT PZEV (advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicle), TZEV (transition zero-emission vehicle), and Enhanced AT PZEV (enhanced advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicle). To see if your vehicle qualifies for a CAV decal, you can check the list of qualifying vehicles on the Air Resources Board's website. Decal applications are available online from the DMV.
Steep Fines Await Carpool Lane Violators
If you violate California law by traveling in a carpool lane without the minimum number of occupants or your vehicle is not exempt, you can be ticketed and fined $481, as of the date of publication. It's not a moving violation, which means you won't incur points on your driving record. However, if you traveled across two double yellow lines to enter the carpool lane instead of waiting for the proper entrance point, this is a moving violation. If you receive a carpool lane ticket, do not ignore it -- pay the fine or contest it in court. If you do neither by the court date listed on your ticket, you will also be have to pay a failure to appear fee, which can increase an already expensive ticket.
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.