Minnesota HOV Lane Restrictions

Car driving in HOV lane
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Drivers who want their commute to go faster during peak hours often turn to Heavily Occupied Vehicle (HOV), or carpool lanes. In Minnesota, these specially designated areas of the interstate highways are called MnPASS Express Lanes. Drivers can use these lanes to travel quickly on congested areas of I-35W, I-35E and I-394. Minnesota also has several HOV Bypass Lanes, typically found near Park and Ride lots for public transportation.

However, these lanes aren’t open to just anyone. Drivers must meet certain criteria or risk getting a traffic ticket for inappropriately using the MnPASS Express Lanes. If you’re planning to use Minnesota HOV lanes, learn about the restrictions and potential punishments for violating these laws.

Minnesota HOV During Non-Peak Hours

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) limits who can drive in MnPASS Express Lanes during peak traffic hours. You can find these times for each HOV lane on the MnDOT website. During non-peak hours, the MnPASS Express Lanes are open to all traffic.

Minnesota HOV Lanes During Peak Hours

The MnDOT allows cars with at least two people to travel on the MnPASS Express Lanes and HOV Bypass Lanes for free during peak traffic hours. Drivers can travel with adults, children or infants to qualify for free travel on the Minnesota HOV lanes.

Drivers who travel alone can drive in MnPASS Express Lanes for a fee during peak hours with the appropriate MnPASS transponders on their windshields. The department deducts a predetermined amount of money from the driver’s account. However, solo drivers are not allowed to use the HOV Bypass Lanes, even with MnPASS tags.

Some Minnesota drivers have MnPASS tags but want to take advantage of free travel on the HOV lanes with passengers. Such drivers should put their transponders into HOV 2+ mode to avoid being charged for using the MnPASS Express lanes.

Commercial Vehicles on Minnesota HOV Lanes

MnDOT discourages commercial vehicles from using the MnPASS Express and HOV Bypass lanes during peak traffic hours. Therefore, the department doesn’t issue MnPASS transponders to commercial vehicles that have more than two axles and weigh more than 26,000 pounds.

However, state law allows commercial vehicles to use these lanes if at least two occupants are in the vehicle. During non-peak hours, commercial drivers can use HOV lanes freely, just like other drivers.

How Does Minnesota Enforce These Rules?

The state of Minnesota employs several full-time troopers who focus solely on enforcing MnPASS Express and HOV Bypass rules. During peak traffic hours, there is at least one trooper stationed along every HOV lane. At least once every week, the Minnesota State Patrol increases its presence.

As troopers monitor the Minnesota HOV lanes, they look for vehicles with at least two people in them. If they see solo drivers, the troopers scan for working transponders for MnPASS tags. Drivers should not try to outsmart troopers with old transponders that no longer work.

Punishment for Breaking Minnesota HOV Regulations

When Minnesota state troopers suspect someone of violating the rules for driving in MnPASS Express or HOV Bypass lanes, they follow the driver with their lights on. The driver should then pull onto the shoulder.

If the driver is indeed using the lane unlawfully, the trooper may write a warning or a ticket. The fees for violating these laws vary based on county, but they can run up to $300 per violation. While state troopers in these lanes primarily look for HOV violations, they also may write tickets for other traffic violations, such as driving above the speed limit.