Massachusetts is one of the prettiest states in the nation, and its roads are better known for being scenic, relaxing, and rural, rather than busy and crowded. But, as in most states, a number of drivers rely on city driving, and freeways specifically, to get to work in the morning, and home in the evening. For those who work in Boston, as many Massachusetts residents do, freeways are an important part of the daily routine. And for many of those freeway drivers, the car pool lanes are vital time savers.
Car pool lanes are some of the most important features and road rules in Massachusetts. Only vehicles with multiple occupants are allowed to drive in car pool lanes; cars with only a driver are not allowed, and will be ticketed. Car pool lanes are usually able to maintain high freeway speeds even during peak rush hours, which allows those who are carpooling to save lots of time during their daily commute. This encourages others to carpool, which helps decrease the number of vehicles that are on Massachusetts’ roads. Less vehicles on the road means diminished traffic for everyone, reduced carbon emissions, and less wear and tear to the freeways (and, as a result, less freeway repair money needed from Massachusetts taxpayers).
Car pool lane rules change from state to state, but as with all traffic laws, they should always be observed and obeyed. Thankfully, the car pool lane rules in Massachusetts are easy to both learn and follow.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Massachusetts has two sets of car pool lanes, both appearing on I-93, which funnels commuters into and out of the greater Boston area. On the northwest expressway the car pool lane is only open for southbound traffic, and the lane lasts for 1.6 miles. On the southeast expressway the car pool lanes are open in both directions, and for 5.4 miles. The car pool lanes are the furthest left lanes on the freeway, and are adjacent to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The car pool lanes will always stay connected to the rest of the freeway, though they are separated by a small barrier.
Car pool lanes are signaled by signs that will be on the left side of the freeway, or above the car pool lanes. These signs will feature a symbol of a diamond, or will note that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane. The diamond symbol may also be painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In Massachusetts, you must have a minimum of two occupants in your vehicle to drive in the car pool lane, and the driver counts as one occupant. Even though the car pool lanes were designed to incentive carpooling for people going to work, there are no limitations on who qualifies as a second occupant, or where you’re going. If you are simply driving your child to a friend’s house, you are eligible to drive in the car pool lane.
The car pool lanes are only open during peak rush hour times. The southbound car pool lane on the northwest expressway is open from 6:00-10:00 AM on weekdays. The rest of the time, the 1.6-mile car pool lane is closed off. On the southeast expressway, the car pool lane is open from 6:00-10:00 AM in the northbound direction, and from 3:00-7:00 PM in the southbound direction, and only on weekdays. These lanes are called zipper lanes, which means that the barrier that separates them from the rest of the freeway is movable. When the lanes are not operating as car pool lanes, the barrier will be removed, and they are available to all freeway drivers. The signs for the car pool lane will remind you of when the lane is open.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
While the standard rule of the car pool lanes is that vehicles with two or more occupants are allowed, there are a few exceptions. Motorcycles are permitted in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant. This is because motorcycles can easily operate at a high speed, and are small, so they don’t add congestion. They are also safer traveling at high freeway speeds than in bumper to bumper traffic.
However, not all vehicles that have two or more occupants can legally drive in the car pool lanes. Since the car pool lane operates as the fast lane, vehicles that cannot safely or legally drive at a high freeway speed are not permitted to enter the car pool lane. Examples of these vehicles include semis, RVs, trucks that are towing large items, and motorcycles with trailers.
Many states have car pool lane exemptions for alternative fuel vehicles, such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrid vehicles. Currently, Massachusetts does not have any such exemption. However, these incentives are becoming more and more popular across the country, so if you have an alternative fuel vehicle be sure to keep your eye open, as the rule could change someday soon.
City buses and emergency vehicles are exempt from all car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
If you are caught driving in the car pool lane with only one occupant, you can be pulled over and ticketed by a police or highway patrol officer. The general car pool lane violation ticket is $50, which is much lower than in most states. However, if you are a repeat offender, or ticketed during an especially high traffic scenario, the ticket can reach $100.
If you attempt to trick an officer by placing a mannequin, cut out, or dummy in your passenger seat as your second occupant, then you will likely receive a much heftier ticket, and can potentially even face a suspended license or jail time.
Carpooling is a great way to save time, money, and the hassle of traffic. Any time you’re on I-93 with at least two occupants, keep your eye open to see if the car pool lane is open so that you can utilize all the benefits that it has to offer.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Lane Rules in Massachusetts? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.