New York is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, so it should come as no surprise that there can be a large amount of traffic on the state’s major freeways. Every day, tens of thousands of New Yorkers rely on the state’s freeways to get them to and from work, and often they end up stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. However, many of these drivers are able to utilize the state’s many car pool lanes, which help drivers shave time and money off of their commute.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes specifically for vehicles carrying multiple occupants; cars with only one occupant cannot drive in these lanes. Since there are fewer carpoolers on the road than vehicles with only a single occupant, the car pool lanes are almost always able to hold a high freeway speed, even when the general access lanes are stuck in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic. This acts as a reward for those who choose to share a ride on their way to work, and it also incentivizes other drivers to do the same. The more people are encouraged to carpool, the fewer cars there are on the road, which means less traffic for everyone, reduced carbon emissions, and the less damage to New York’s freeways (which results in lower road repair costs for taxpayers). It all adds up to make the car pool lanes home to some of the most vital road rules in the state.
As with all traffic laws, you should always adhere to the car pool lane rules. Failure to do so can be unsafe, and also result in a hefty fine. Car pool lane rules vary from state to state, but they’re very straightforward in New York.
Where are the car pool lanes?
There are currently four car pool lanes in New York: on the Manhattan Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and the Long Island Expressway. The car pool lanes are always the furthermost left lanes on the freeway, directly next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The car pool lanes always run adjacent to the general access lanes, and sometimes you can exit the freeway directly from the car pool lanes, while other times you will have to merge over to the right lane in order to get off the freeway.
The car pool lanes are noted by signs directly next to or above the lanes. The signs will mark that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or may merely have an image of a diamond. This diamond will also be painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
The car pool lane rules depending on which lane you are in. Some of the New York car pool lanes require a minimum of two occupants (including the driver) per vehicle, while other lanes require a minimum of three. Despite the fact that car pool lanes were implemented to encourage carpooling between coworkers, there are no limitations on who your second or third occupants can be. Even if you are driving around with your children, you are still eligible to use the car pool lane.
In New York, car pool lanes are only open during morning rush hours, and only in the direction that the bulk of traffic is driving in. The specific hours vary depending on which car pool lane you’re in, so always be sure to check the car pool lane signs, which will tell you the hours of operation, and the minimum number of occupants required. When a car pool lane is not in operation, it is available for all vehicles to drive in.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
In addition to cars that meet the minimum number of required occupants, there are a few other vehicles that can legally operate in the car pool lanes. Motorcycles are allowed in the lanes, even with only one occupant, because they are small and can easily travel at high speeds, which means they don’t add to congestion in the car pool lanes. Motorcycles are also much safer when traveling at high freeway speeds than when stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.
As part of a green initiative, New York also allows drivers of alternative fuel vehicles to operate in the car pool lane, even with a single occupant. In order to drive in the car pool lanes with an alternative fuel vehicle, you will first have to obtain a Clean Pass permit, which you can do for free on the New York Department of Motor Vehicles website. To see a list of cars that are eligible for a Clean Pass permit, visit the New York Department of Transportation website.
There are a few vehicles that are not allowed in the car pool lane, regardless of how many occupants they have. Since the car pool lane operates as the fast lane on the freeway, only cars that can safely and legally maintain a high freeway speed are allowed. Vehicles such as RVs, motorcycles with trailers, and trucks with large items in tow cannot drive in the car pool lane.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from all car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
The violation for driving in the car pool lane without the minimum number of occupants varies depending on the lane, and how busy traffic is. The standard car pool lane violation ticket is $135, but it can be higher than that, especially for repeat offenders. A car pool lane violation will also result in one to three points being added to your license.
Any driver who attempts to trick officers by placing a dummy, mannequin, or cut out as a second or third occupant will be given a heftier fine, and potentially face jail time or license suspension.
Using a car pool lane can be a great way to save time and money, all while avoiding the pain of traffic. Make sure you always obey the rules, and you can get straight to taking advantage of New York’s many car pool lane rules.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in New York? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.