Every day, tens of thousands of Minnesota drivers rely on the state’s many freeways to get them from their home to their job site, and then back home again. While many of these drivers have to sit in stop and go traffic during their daily commute, many of them get to utilize some of the state’s many car pool lanes. The car pool lanes in Minnesota save significant time for many drivers, making them among the state’s most important rules.
Car pool lanes are lanes on the freeway that are made specifically for vehicles with multiple occupants. In general, cars with only one passenger cannot drive in car pool lanes, though there are exceptions in Minnesota, as will be explained below. Because there are less carpoolers than there are vehicles with only one passenger, car pool lanes are able to maintain a high freeway speed, even during peak rush hour when the rest of the freeway is mired in traffic. This not only provides a benefit for drivers who opt to carpool, but incentivizes other drivers to share their ride. The result of this is less cars on the road, which diminishes traffic for everyone, reduces carbon emissions, and lessens the damage done to the state’s freeways (which results in fewer road repair dollars needed from Minnesota taxpayers).
Using the car pool lane is a great way for commuters to save time, money, and the hassle of traffic. Like all other traffic laws though, you’ll want to make sure that you understand the car pool lane rules before utilizing the lanes. These rules vary from state to state, but they’re pretty straightforward in Minnesota.
Where are the car pool lanes?
The car pool lanes in Minnesota are located on most of the state’s major freeways. The lanes are always on the far left of the freeway, next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The car pool lanes will always stay attached to the general all-access lanes, and often you’ll be able to exit the freeway directly from the car pool lane. This is not always the case, however, and many times you will have to merge to the furthest right lane in order to get off of the freeway.
The car pool lanes are marked by signs that are usually above the lanes, and sometimes to the side of the lanes. The signs usually say “Car Pools, Buses, Motorcycles, and MnPass”, but will sometimes simply say “HOV” (High Occupancy Vehicle”, or have an image of a diamond. This diamond is also painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In Minnesota, you have to have a minimum of two occupants in your vehicle, including the driver, in order to qualify for the car pool lane. While car pool lanes were added to Minnesota freeways to encourage coworkers to share rides on their way to work, there are no limits to who can be your second occupant. If you are driving around with a friend or one of your children, you are free to use the car pool lanes.
Unlike in most states, Minnesota also allows vehicles with single occupants in the car pool lanes, provided that they pay a toll. These drivers have to purchase an MnPass transponder, and pay a fee every time they are in the car pool lanes (which are known as express lanes to those who are not carpooling). The fee for driving in an express lane expands as the traffic gets more severe, which helps regulate the amount of single-occupant drivers in the car pool lanes, so that carpoolers are still able to benefit from the lanes. If you have an MnPass transponder to use the lanes even when you’re not carpooling, you will have to switch it into “HOV 2+” mode when you are carpooling, to avoid getting erroneously charged.
Most of the car pool lanes are only open during peak rush hours. These hours are 6:00-10:00 AM, and either 2:00 or 3:00-7:00 PM, depending on the freeway, and only on weekdays. When the car pool lanes are not active, all cars can operate in the lanes, even without MnPass transponders (and those with transponders will not be charged). The signs for the car pool lanes will let you know when the lanes are active, and when they’re all-access (which will be listed as “open”, or “open to all traffic” on the signs).
On I-934, there is a section where the car pool lanes are reversible, and are switched between eastbound and westbound traffic throughout the day. These are car pool lanes for eastbound traffic from 6:00 AM to 1:00 PM on weekdays, and all weekend long, and for westbound traffic from 2:00 PM until 5:00 AM on weekdays. The two hours a day when the car pool lanes are not open is when the reversible lanes are being switched, and they are closed to all traffic.
Minnesota’s car pool lanes feature specific entry and exit points, to help maintain a steady flow in the lanes. When the car pool lanes are separated from the all-access lanes by solid double lines, you cannot merge into or out of the lanes. When the lanes are separated by a checkered line, you can enter and exit.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
While Minnesota car pool lanes are primarily for vehicles with multiple occupants or MnPass transponders, there are a few exceptions to be aware of. Motorcycles are always allowed in car pool lanes, even if they only have one occupant. This is because bikes are small and fast, and thus don’t cause any additional traffic in the car pool lanes. They’re also safer operating at high speeds than at bumper to bumper traffic speeds.
The car pool lane operates as the fast lane on the freeway, so only vehicles that can safely and legally operate at a high freeway speed are allowed in the car pool lane. For example, semis, RVs, trucks towing large items, and motorcycles with trailers are not allowed in the car pool lane, even if they have two or more occupants.
In many states, alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrids) are allowed in the car pool lane with only one occupant, as an incentive for driving environmentally friendly vehicles. Minnesota does not have any such exemptions, but if you have an alternative fuel car be sure to keep your eye open, as the state may change the rule at some point.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
It’s easy for police and highway patrol officers to spot car pool lane violators, because they have radars that alert them when a car has an MnPass transponder, making it easy for them to spot when a single-occupant vehicle is there illegally. The fee for driving in the car pool lane with only one occupant varies depending on the county you’re in, but it’s usually between $140 and $150. If you are a repeat offender you may be subject to higher fines, and potentially a license suspension.
The fee for crossing double solid lines to enter or exit the car pool lane is $142. If you attempt to deceive officers by placing a dummy, cut out, or mannequin in your passenger seat as a second occupant, the fine will be much heftier, and can even result in jail time.
The car pool lane is a great way to avoid the hassle of traffic, and save time and money. As long as you pay attention to the rules, you can start taking advantage of everything that the Minnesota car pool lanes have to offer.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in Minnesota? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.