Manassas Journal Messenger | In the HOV lanes

In an unprecedented display of interagency cooperation, the Virginia State Police teamed up with the Virginia Department of Transportation to crack down on HOV violators earlier this summer.

High Occupancy Vehicle lanes have proven popular with commuters over the past decade but many who use these car pool lanes are frustrated with single drivers crashing their commute. It was estimated that HOV violators accounted for 35 percent of the HOV lane traffic on I-95 and 38 percent of the traffic on I-66 inside the beltway.

A task force studying the problem of HOV violators is recommending stronger enforcement and stiffer penalties which must be approved by the General Assembly. The proposed changes include:

? Doubling the fines for repeat offenders. This would raise the fine for the second offense from $100 to $200. The third offense (within two years of the second) would be increased from $250 to $500. The fourth offense would be raised to $1,000.

? Assign three demerit points to the license of a repeat offender for each subsequent offense. Eighteen points within 12 months results in a suspended license.

? Increase HOV enforcement funding for the state police from $140,000 to $300,000. A good way to fund this is to increase the cost of fines and the number of tickets issued. Hopefully, it could be self-sufficient.

Northern Virginia commuters got a taste of increased enforcement of car pool lanes in July. Though VDOT has had its problems recently, cooperation with the state police was a good thing to do.

The crackdown on HOV crashers involved VDOT covering the cost of overtime for state troopers charged with enforcing passenger requirements in Northern Virginia’s car pool lanes.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Violations soared during the crackdown as state police ticketed violators during operation “No Excuses.”

“Before the crackdown, troopers were issuing an average of 40 summons a day; now they average more than 90 a day,” Sergeant W.L. Bouldin of the Virginia State Police said in a recent press release.

That means the number of tickets for HOV violations doubled. It doesn’t mean that more people were violating the lanes but rather the state police were making a point in capturing more of the drivers that do. This will be a key element if HOV laws are strengthened – catching HOV violators in the act and punishing them.

It’s good to see VDOT advocating increased penalties for HOV violators, but all the threats must be enforced if it is to be effective.

While the state police are often shorthanded in Northern Virginia, local jurisdictions could be used to fill the gaps. The task force studying HOV enforcement recommended better communication. Hopefully this will result in state police working with local police and sheriff’s department officials in patrolling the HOV lanes to bust daily violators.

Most of this will be moot, however, if the General Assembly fails to strengthen HOV laws during the next session.

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