Tennessee is home to a few large metropolitan areas, and every day countless numbers of workers commute into and out of Nashville, Memphis, and other Tennessee cities and their way to and from work. Most of these workers rely heavily on Tennessee’s major freeway to get them where they’re going, and a decent amount rely on the state’s car pool lanes, which offer an excellent way for people to shave time and money off of their daily commute.
Car pool lanes are freeway lanes that can only be used by cars with multiple occupants. Vehicles with only a driver, and no passengers, cannot drive in the car pool lanes. Most of the cars on the freeway (especially during rush hour) only have one occupant, which means that the car pool lane has virtually no congestion. This allows vehicles in the car pool lane to drive at a high freeway speed, even when the rest of the lanes are stuck in stop and go traffic. This rewards people who have opted to carpool, and also encourages other drivers to share rides. This helps eliminate some of the cars from the road, which means there is less traffic for everyone, fewer carbon emissions, and reduced stress to freeway roads (which means fewer road repair dollars from the taxpayers). Add it all up, and it’s not hard to see why car pool lanes are some of the most important features and rules on the road.
As with all traffic laws, it’s extremely important that you always observe the car pool lane rules, as failure to do so can result in a hefty fine. Car pool lane laws vary from state to state, but they’re very straightforward and easy to follow in Tennessee.
Where are the car pool lanes?
Tennessee has more than 75 miles of car pool lanes across four of the state’s largest freeways: I-24, I-40, I-55, and I-65. The car pool lanes are always the furthest left lanes on the freeway, adjacent to the barrier or the oncoming traffic. The car pool lanes will always stay directly attached to the general use freeway lanes. Occasionally you will be able to exit the freeway directly from the car pool lane, but most of the time you will have to merge back to the furthest right lane if you want to get off the freeway.
The Car pool lanes are marked by signs on the side of the freeway and above the car pool lanes. These lanes will state that it is a car pool or HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane, or will simply have a symbol of a diamond on them. The car pool lane itself will also be painted with the diamond symbol.
What are the basic car pool lane rules?
In Tennessee, the minimum number of occupants required to drive in the car pool lane is two. The driver counts as one of the two occupants. Even though car pool lanes were implemented to encourage ride sharing between coworkers during rush hour, there are no restrictions on who qualifies as an occupant. If you are driving around with your child, you are still allowed to be in the car pool lane.
The car pool lanes in Tennessee are only open during peak traffic hours, as that’s when they are most needed. The inbound directions are open from 7:00-9:00 AM, Monday through Friday, while the outbound directions are open from 4:00-6:00 PM, Monday through Friday (including holidays). During all other hours – and weekends – the car pool lanes are open for all drivers to use, no matter how many occupants are in your car.
What vehicles are allowed in the car pool lanes?
While the car pool lanes in Tennessee were created primarily for cars with at least two occupants, there are some exceptions. Motorcycles – even those with only one occupant – are allowed in the car pool lane. This is because bikes can easily travel at a high freeway speed, and don’t take up much space, so they don’t add congestion to the car pool lane. Motorcycles are also safer when traveling at a standard freeway speed than when driving in bumper to bumper traffic.
To incentivize the purchase of environmentally friendly cars, Tennessee also allows certain alternative fuel vehicles (such as plug-in electric cars and gas-electric hybrids) in the car pool lane, even with only one occupant. To drive in the car pool lane with an alternative fuel car, you will first have to get a Smart Pass, so that law enforcement knows that you can legally be in the car pool lane. You can apply for a Smart Pass (for free) through the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Not all vehicles that have two or more occupants are allowed in the car pool lanes. Since the car pool lanes act as the fast lane, only vehicles that can safely and legally drive at high freeway speeds are allowed on them. For example, trucks towing large items, RVs, and motorcycles with trailers are not allowed in the car pool lane. If you are pulled over for driving one of these cars in the car pool lane, you will likely receive a warning rather than a ticket, since this rule is not stated on the signs.
Emergency vehicles, city buses, and tow trucks en route to vehicles on the freeway are exempt from car pool lane rules.
What are the car pool lane violation penalties?
In Tennessee, both police and highway patrol officers can give you a ticket for violating the car pool lane rules. Unfortunately, many law-abiding Tennessee drivers have complained that the car pool lane rules are not very well enforced, and that many vehicles with single occupants are abusing the lanes. The state has recognized that this is an issue, and are making an effort to more closely patrol the lanes.
The standard ticket for violating the car pool rules in Tennessee is $50, though it can be up to $100 depending on the county. Repeat offenders are likely to receive higher ticket prices, and potentially face a license suspension.
Drivers who attempt to trick officers by placing a mannequin, cut out, or dummy in the passenger seat as a second occupant will receive a more severe ticket, and can possibly be given a short jail sentence as well.
Whether you like to share a ride with your coworkers, or simply drive around with other people in your car a lot, you can benefit by using Tennessee’s car pool lanes. Just make sure you know the rules of the lanes, and you can get straight to utilizing them.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What are the Car Pool Rules in Tennessee? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.