Every day, thousands of Pennsylvanians commute to work, and a large number of them rely on the state’s freeways to do so. Pittsburgh is a hub of business in Pennsylvania, and a huge amount of citizens commute into the city every morning, and out of it every evening. A decent number of these commuters also take advantage of Pennsylvania’s car pool lanes, which allows them to save lots of time, money, and stress during their daily commute.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes for vehicles with multiple occupants. Vehicles with only a driver, and no passengers, are not allowed to drive in the car pool lane. Since most cars on the freeway during commute times have only a single driver, the car pool lanes are able to be far less busy than the general use lanes. This allows drivers in the car pool lane to drive at a standard high freeway speed, even when the rest of the freeway is stuck in stop and go rush hour traffic. The speed and efficiency of the car pool lane acts as a reward for those who opt to share a ride on their way to and from Pittsburgh, and it is an incentive for other people to start carpooling. More carpoolers means fewer cars on the road, which decreases traffic for everyone, reduces harmful carbon emissions, and lessens the amount of damage that is done to Pennsylvania’s freeways (which in turns results in fewer road repair costs for taxpayers). As a result of all these benefits, car pool lanes are some of the most important rules of the road in Pennsylvania.
All traffic laws are important, and the car pool lane rules are no exception, as failure to follow the rules can result in an expensive ticket. The car pool lane laws vary quite a bit from state to state, but they’re easy to learn and follow in Pennsylvania.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Pennsylvania has two sets of car pool lanes, on I-279, and I-579 (the car pool lanes combine when I-579 becomes I-279). These car pool lanes are reversible, meaning they can travel in either direction, and are located in between the two sides of the freeway, which makes them always on the driver’s left hand side. The car pool lanes stay between the inbound and outbound lanes at all.
The car pool lanes are noted by freeway signs, which will be next to the lanes, and also above them. These signs will state that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, and will be accompanied by a symbol of a diamond. This diamond symbol will also be painted directly on the car pool lane.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In Pennsylvania, the minimum number of occupants required to drive in the car pool lane is two, including the driver. Even though the car pool lanes exist to aid commuters who are carpooling to and from work, there are no restrictions on who your occupants can be. If you are driving around with your child, or with a friend, you can still legally be in the car pool lane.
The Pennsylvania car pool lanes are only open during rush hour, as that is when the commuters need them, and the freeways are most congested. The lanes are open to inbound traffic from 6:00-9:00 AM, Monday through Friday, and they are open to outbound traffic from 3:00-7:00 PM, Monday through Friday (including holidays). During non-operational hours on weekdays, the car pool lanes are entirely closed, and you will not be allowed to enter the lanes. However, when the car pool lanes close at 7:00 PM on Friday, they become all-access outbound lanes that anyone can drive in, even with only one passenger. The car pool lanes are general access for outbound traffic all weekend long, until they close again at 5:00 AM on Monday.
Because the reversible car pool lanes are detached from the general use lanes, you can only enter and exit the lanes at specific areas. However, you are able to make freeway exits directly from the car pool lanes, rather than exiting back onto the general use lanes.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
Car pool lanes were created for cars with multiple occupants in them, but they’re not the only vehicles that are permitted in the lanes. Motorcycles can also drive in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant. This is because motorcycles are quick, and do not take up much space, so they don’t negatively contribute to congestion problems in the car pool lane. Bikes are also much safer when operating at standard freeway speeds than they are in bumper to bumper traffic.
Some states allow alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrids) to operate in the car pool lanes, even with only one occupant. This green initiative has not been implemented in Pennsylvania, but it’s becoming increasingly popular across the country. If you have an alternative fuel vehicle, be sure to keep your eye open, as Pennsylvania may change their laws sometime soon.
Not all vehicles with two or more occupants are allowed on Pennsylvania’s car pool lanes. The car pool lanes serve as the fast lanes, so vehicles that cannot safely and legally travel at high freeway speeds are not permitted. For example, motorcycles with trailers, semis, RVs, and trucks towing large items are not allowed to drive in the car pool lane. If you are pulled over for driving one of these vehicles, you will likely receive a warning rather than a ticket, since this rule is not explicitly stated on the car pool lane signs.
Emergency vehicles and city buses are exempt from car pool lane rules, presuming they are operating.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
If you are caught driving in the car pool lane without a second occupant, you will receive a hefty ticket. The standard car pool lane violation is $109.50, but it can be higher if traffic is especially busy, or if you are a repeat offender.
Drivers who attempt to deceive officers by placing mannequins, cut outs, or dummies in their passenger seat to look like a second occupant will usually receive a higher fine, and possibly even a license suspension or jail time.
Pennsylvania doesn’t have a large number of car pool lanes, but the ones they do have can greatly benefit carpoolers, and save them lots of time and money. As long as you learn and follow the rules, you can start utilizing all that the car pool lanes have to offer.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in Pennsylvania? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.