A large percentage of Maryland drivers rely on the state’s major freeways when commuting to and from work, as well as while driving to school, the grocery store, and various other places. These drivers usually use the freeways on a daily basis, and many of them take advantage of the car pool lanes, which exist on two of Maryland’s most vital freeways. Because of the vast number of drivers using the freeways to get to work, Maryland’s car pool lanes have some of the most important rules of the road in the state.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes that are specifically for vehicles with multiple occupants. Vehicles with only a driver, and no passengers, are not allowed to drive in the car pool lanes. Because most cars only have one occupant, car pool lanes are not flooded with traffic, and they generally maintain a high freeway speed, even during peak rush hours. This rewards drivers for carpooling to work, and also encourages others to share rides, which has added impacts: the more drivers that carpool, the less cars that are on the road. Fewer cars on the road means less traffic for everyone, fewer carbon emissions produced, and limited damage to Maryland’s freeways, which results in less road repair taxes for the citizens.
Similar to all traffic laws, the rules for the car pool lane ensure that the lane operates properly and safely. These rules vary from state to state, so be sure to take a moment to learn about how Maryland’s car pool lanes operate.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Car pool lanes exist on stretches of two major Maryland freeways: I-270, and US 50. The car pool lanes are the furthest left lanes on these freeways, adjacent to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The lanes will always stay attached to the rest of the freeway, and occasionally you can exit directly from the car pool lane, though you will usually have to merge to the furthest right lane in order to get off the freeway.
The car pool lanes are marked by a sign that will be either on the side of the freeway, or directly above the lane. These signs will mention that the lane is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, and will note the rules specific to that car pool lane. The lane will also be marked by a sign with a symbol of a diamond on it, and the diamond will be painted directly on the lane as well.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
Both of Maryland’s car pool lanes require a minimum of two occupants per vehicle, with the driver counting as one occupant. And despite the fact that the lanes were created to encourage carpooling between coworkers, there are no limitations on who counts as the second occupant. If you are driving with only your child, you are still allowed to be in the car pool lane.
The car pool lanes on I-270 are only open during peak rush hours. This allows the freeway to benefit commuters going to or from work, while operating at maximum efficiency the rest of the time. The southbound car pool lane on I-270 is open from 6:00-9:00 AM, while the northbound lane is open from 3:30-6:30 PM. Both lanes are only open during weekdays. During non-operational hours, these lanes become all-access lanes, and can be used by anyone. The car pool lanes on US 50 are open around the clock, seven days a week, and are never all-access lanes.
While there are no specific areas to enter or exit a car pool lane, it is suggested that drivers do not merge into and out of the lane with great frequency. This helps the car pool lane maintain a high speed and traffic flow.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
In addition to cars with multiple occupants, there are a few other vehicles that are allowed to drive in Maryland’s car pool lanes. Motorcycles can legally drive in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant, because they can maintain a high speed without contributing to congestion, and they are safer travelling at freeway speeds than in bumper to bumper traffic.
Plug-in electric vehicles are also allowed to drive in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant. This exemption helps incentivize the purchase of fully electric vehicles. In order to qualify for this exemption, your vehicle must be significantly powered by an electric motor that draws from a 4-kilowatt or greater battery, and the car must be able to be recharged from an external electric battery charger. However, in order to operate in the car pool lane you must first receive a plug-in electric vehicle permit to place on the exterior of your car, so that traffic officers can easily spot you in the car pool lane. This permit is free, and can be obtained through the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division. You can also get this permit directly from the dealership when purchasing a plug-in electric vehicle. At this time hybrid-electric vehicles do not qualify for the Maryland car pool lane exemption.
There are a few vehicles that cannot legally be driven in the car pool lane, even with two or more occupants. These are vehicles such as RVs, semis, and trucks towing large items, which cannot safely or legally drive at a high freeway speed. Since the car pool lane operates as the freeway’s fast lane, any vehicle that cannot safely keep pace is prohibited.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from all car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
In Maryland, both the police and the local highway patrol officers can ticket you for a car pool lane infraction. If you are caught driving in the lane with only one occupant, you will receive a $90 ticket, and be given one point against your driver’s license. If your illegal actions in the car pool lane result in an accident, you will receive three points.
Drivers who attempt to deceive officers by placing a mannequin, dummy, or cut out in their passenger seat will be subject to a higher fine, and potentially jail time or a license suspension.
Using the car pool lane can save you time and money, as well as the stress of sitting in stop and go traffic. Whether you’re carpooling with fellow workers, or simply driving somewhere with friends or family, be sure to learn the car pool rules so you can utilize Maryland’s great car pool lanes.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Lane Rules in Maryland? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.