Despite being a small state, Ohio is home to a few major metropolitan areas. Tens of thousands of workers commute into and out of Ohio’s major cities on a daily basis, and most of them count on the state’s freeways to get them to and from work. While a large portion of these drivers end up stuck in rush hour traffic, some use Ohio’s car pool lanes, and are able to save valuable time and money on their daily commute.
Car pool lanes are lanes on the freeway that are only for vehicles with multiple occupants. Cars with only one occupant are not allowed in car pool lanes. Because most of the cars on the freeway have only one occupant, the car pool lanes have much less congestion than the general use lanes, and as a result they are usually able to maintain a high freeway speed, even when the other cars on the road are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. This efficient lane rewards employees who choose to carpool to work, and it encourages many other people to try ride sharing as well. This helps get vehicles off the road, which results in better traffic for everyone, reduced carbon emissions, and less damage to the freeways (which means fewer road repair dollars from the taxpayers). Put it all together, and car pool lanes are beneficial in numerous ways.
As is the case with all traffic laws, it’s important to always obey the rules of the car pool lanes. If you don’t adhere to the car pool lane laws, you will likely end up with a very hefty ticket. The rules for car pool lanes change depending on which state you’re in, but they’re easy and simple to learn in Ohio.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Car pool lanes exist on most of Ohio’s major freeways. The car pool lanes are always on the far left side of the freeway, directly next to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The lanes always stay connected to the rest of the freeway, with the rare exception of when road work is being performed. There are a few instances where a freeway exit will be accessible from the car pool lane, but usually you have to merge to the far right lane if you want to get off the freeway.
Car pool lanes are marked by freeway signs, which will be both to the left of the lane, and directly above it. Some of these signs will note that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, and some will simply have an image of a diamond. The diamond symbol is also painted directly on the road.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In Ohio, you must have at least two occupants in your vehicle in order to drive in the car pool lane. The driver counts as one of these occupants. And while the car pool lane was created to encourage carpooling between coworkers, there are no limits on who can qualify as the second occupant in your vehicle. Even if you are driving around with your child, you can still be in the car pool lane.
Some of Ohio’s car pool lanes are only open during peak traffic hours, when the lanes are most needed. When these lanes are not active car pool lanes, they become general all-access lanes, and any driver on the freeway can use them. Other car pool lanes in Ohio are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are never available for general access. Be sure to read the car pool signs, as they will tell you if there are any time restrictions on the car pool lane you are entering.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
While Ohio car pool lanes were created for cars with at least two occupants, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Motorcycles are allowed in car pool lanes, even with only one occupant, because they are small and fast, and thus don’t add any congestion to the car pool lanes. Motorcycles are also safer when traveling at high freeway speeds than they when stuck in stop and go traffic.
As part of a green initiative, alternative fuel vehicles and plug-in electric vehicles are also allowed in the car pool lanes with only one occupant. However, you will first need to get a permit sticker on your vehicle, so that law enforcement knows that your car is allowed in the car pool lanes. You can receive a permit for your alternative fuel or plug-in electric vehicle at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
However, not all vehicles with two or more occupants can drive in the car pool lane. The car pool lanes operate as the freeway’s fast lanes, so any vehicles that cannot safely or legally maintain a high freeway speed are not allowed in the lanes. Trucks with large items in tow, motorcycles with trailers, and RVs are a few examples of such vehicles. If you are pulled over for driving one of these vehicles in the car pool lane, you will likely receive a warning rather than a ticket, as it is not stated on the car pool lane signs.
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 with only one occupant varies depending on which county you are in. Most tickets for violating the car pool lane are between $100 and $200, with higher fees for repeat offenders. Violating the car pool lane does not result in points added to your record.
Drivers who deliberately attempt to trick officers by placing a mannequin, cut out, or dummy in the passenger seat as the second occupant will be subject to a higher fee, and potentially jail time as well. Using Ohio’s car pool lanes can save you a lot of time and money, and help keep you out of frustrating traffic. Also observe and obey the car pool lane rules, and you’ll be able to get the most out of carpooling.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in Ohio? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.