North Carolina is a state known more for its rural, scenic regions than its large cities. But with tech companies booming in the Research Triangle, North Carolina has become a hotspot with a large number of workers. Many of these workers rely on the North Carolina’s major freeways to get them to and from work each day, and a large number of them are able to take advantage of the state’s great car pool lanes.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes that only allow vehicles carrying multiple occupants. Vehicles with only one occupant are not allowed to enter car pool lanes. Because the majority of the cars on the freeway only have one occupant, drivers in car pool lanes are able to hold a steady and high freeway pace, even when the rest of the lanes are moving slowly in rush hour traffic. This speedy lane is a great reward for those who opt to ride share, and it helps encourage others to do the same. As more and more drivers carpool, vehicles are eliminated from the roads, which further reduces traffic, decreases the carbon emissions, and limits the damage done to North Carolina’s freeways (which also limits the road repair costs for taxpayers). All in all, car pool lanes have an extremely beneficial impact on drivers in North Carolina.
All traffic laws should be obeyed, and car pool lane rules are no exception. Violating the car pool lane rules is not only dangerous, but can result in a hefty fine. And since the rules for car pool lanes varies between states, it’s important to familiarize yourself with North Carolina’s car pool lane laws, which are very straightforward and simple.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Car pool lanes can be found on most of North Carolina’s major freeways. The car pool lanes are always the furthest left lanes, adjacent to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The lanes stay attached to the rest of the freeway at all times, and you will have to merge back to the furthest right lane if you wish to exit the freeway.
The car pool lanes are marked by signs, which will be either to the left of the freeway, or directly above the lanes. The signs will note that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or they may simply have an image of a diamond. The diamond symbol will also be painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In North Carolina, you have to have at least two occupants (including the driver) in your vehicle to drive in the car pool lane. Car pool lanes were created to encourage employees to carpool together, yet there are no rules about who qualifies as a second occupant. Even if you are driving around with your child, you are allowed to be in the car pool lane.
Car pool lanes in North Carolina are open around the clock, unlike in other states, which often have certain time restrictions. The car pool lanes are only for vehicles with multiple occupants, no matter the time of the day or the day of the week.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
There are a few vehicles that are allowed to operate in the car pool lane, regardless of how many occupants they have. Motorcycles can be in the car pool lane with only the driver, as they are small and fast enough to avoid causing additional congestion to the lane, and they’re safer at high freeway speeds than in stop and go traffic.
Certain alternative fuel vehicles are also allowed to drive on North Carolina’s car pool lanes, even if they only have a single occupant. However, these vehicles must be plug-in electric, fuel cell electric, or dedicated natural gas vehicles; gas-electric hybrids are not granted this exemption. In order to drive in the car pool lane in an alternative fuel vehicle, you will first need to get a sticker verifying that your car is alternative fuel, which you can ask for at the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles.
A handful of vehicles are not allowed in the car pool lanes, even if they have multiple occupants. The car pool lane is the fastest lane on the freeway, so cars that cannot legally and safely maintain a high freeway speed are not permitted in the car pool lane. Motorcycles with trailers, and trucks with more than three axles are some of the most common vehicles in this category. If you are pulled over for driving one of these vehicles in the car pool lane, you will likely only be given a warning, since this rule is not explicitly stated on the car pool lane signs.
Emergency vehicles are exempt from car pool rules whenever they are responding to an emergency.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
The penalty for driving in the car pool lane with only one occupant can vary, depending on the county that you’re in, and the severity of the traffic. In general, a car pool lane violation comes with a fee of $50-100, but that fee can balloon to over $300 if you are a repeat offender. Violating the car pool lane rules also gives you two points on your driving record.
Drivers who try to deceive police and highway patrol officers by putting a mannequin, cut out, or dummy in their passenger seat as their second occupant will be subject to a larger fine, and potentially jail time.
Car pool lanes are some of the best ways for North Carolina drivers to save time and money, while avoiding the stress of bumper to bumper traffic. As long as you know all of the rules and laws, you can start utilizing everything that North Carolina’s car pool lanes have to offer.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in North Carolina? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.