Oregon is state best known for its gorgeous rural landscapes, which can make for some of the most scenic drives in the country. For Oregon residents, however, the freeways and cities are every bit as important as the rural backroads, especially when it comes to commuting to work in the morning. Every day, tens of thousands of Oregon drivers utilize the state’s freeways – especially I-5, which travels through the entirety of the state. And some of these drivers are also able to take advantage of the state’s car pool lane.
A car pool lane is a lane on the freeway that is reserved for vehicles with multiple occupants. Cars with only a driver, and no passengers, are not allowed in car pool lanes. Since the majority of the vehicles on the freeway have only one driver, the car pool lanes are usually devoid of traffic, and generally are able to travel at a high speed, even during peak rush hours. Having a fast and efficient lane rewards those who are carpooling, and also offers an incentive so that more people are encouraged to do the same. This helps eliminate the total number of vehicles on the road, which results in less traffic for everyone, reduced carbon emissions, and less damage to the freeways (which means fewer road repair costs for taxpayers). In short, car pool lanes are some of the most important features and rules on any freeway that has them.
Traffic laws should always be obeyed, and the rules of the car pool lane are no exception, as they carry a hefty fine for violators. The laws for car pool lanes vary from state to state, but they’re very straightforward and simple in Oregon.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Oregon only has one car pool lane, and it’s located on I-5. Oregon’s lone lane is only in the northbound direction, and stops right before the Interstate Bridge. It’s also only about 3.5 miles long. The lane is on the left side of the freeway, next to the barrier and the oncoming traffic, and it runs adjacent to the rest of the freeway lanes at all times. Unlike in some car pool lanes, you cannot exit the freeway directly from the lane; instead, you’ll have to merge over to the far right lane in order to get off the freeway.
Oregon’s car pool lane is marked by signs on the side of the freeway, and directly above the lane. These signs will tell you that it’s a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, and will also have an image of a diamond on them. The diamond symbol is also painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
You must have at least two people in your car in order to drive in Oregon’s car pool lane, and the driver counts as one of the occupants. Despite the fact that the car pool lane was created to incentivize ride sharing between coworkers, there are no limits as to who can be in your car when you’re carpooling. Even if you are simply driving your child somewhere, you are allowed to drive in the car pool lane.
Because the car pool lane is meant to aid drivers during rush hour, the lane is only open from 3:00-6:00 PM, Monday through Friday, including holidays. At all other hours, the lane returns to being a general use lane.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
While the Oregon car pool lane is primarily for vehicles with multiple occupants, there are a few exceptions. Motorcycles with a single occupant are also allowed in the lane, because they are small and speedy, and therefore don’t add any additional congestion to the car pool lane. Motorcycles are also much safer when traveling at high freeway speeds than at stop and go traffic speeds.
Some states allow alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrids) to drive in the car pool lane with a single occupant, as an incentive for owning an environmentally friendly vehicle. Oregon does not currently have such an exemption, but that is likely only because of the state’s lack of car pool lanes. Since Oregon is one of the nation’s leaders in environmental progress and green initiatives, it’s probably that such an exemption will be enacted if more car pool lanes are created.
Not all vehicles are allowed in the car pool lane, even if they have multiple occupants. The car pool lane acts as the freeways fast lane, so only cars that can safely and legally drive in the fast lane are allowed in the car pool lane. For example, trucks towing large items, semis, and motorcycles with trailers are not allowed in the car pool lane.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from car pool lane rules, as are tow trucks that are en route to a car in the freeway.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
Oregon law enforcement has started cracking down on people who drive in the car pool lane with a single occupant, as many law-abiding drivers were upset that the lane was going relatively unpatrolled. The chances are now high that violators will be caught, and the ticket for a first time offense is $260. Repeat offenders may be subject to higher fines, and potentially a license suspension.
Any driver who tries to trick an officer by placing a dummy, mannequin, or cut out in the passenger seat as the second occupant will likely receive a higher fine, and can potentially face jail time.
Car pool lanes can save drivers a lot of time and money, as well as the hassle of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the way to and from work. That said, car pool lanes are a long work in progress in Oregon. Oregon’s car pool lane was implement in the 1990s as a pilot program to see if the lanes could have a positive impact. Because it was merely a pilot project, the lane was not placed in a particularly needy area – it stops just short of the Interstate Bridge bottleneck, where it’s most needed – and as such, it’s not incredibly useful to very many drivers. After nearly two decades, drivers are calling on the state to either add car pool lanes to other parts of I-5 (and other major Oregon freeways), or scrap the concept altogether. If you’re an Oregon commuter who likes to carpool to work, be sure to keep your eye open, as Oregon could make some changes to their car pool lane system in the near future.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in Oregon? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.