- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

A Virginia task force on high-occupancy-vehicle lanes recommends doubling fines and adding demerit points to drivers’ records to decrease illegal HOV-lane use.

The six-member group, formed this summer, also suggested a funding increase of more than 114 percent for Virginia State Police to enforce the lane restrictions.

“Right now we’ve just got so many miles of HOV lanes, so the more funding we have, the more visibility there would be and the more enforcement there would be,” said Virginia State Police Capt. Tom Martin, a member of the task force.

The Virginia General Assembly would have to approve the task force’s suggestions for increasing fines and assigning penalty points.

A first-time HOV violation costs $50, a second offense $100, a third violation within two years of the second offense $250 and a fourth violation within three years of the second offense $500. (Third and fourth violations beyond those time frames are considered first offenses.) The task force is recommending that all fines for offenses after the first be doubled.

Capt. Martin said Virginia needs to improve communication with drivers by ensuring that HOV signs are clear to commuters, continuing a public-information campaign and answering any questions that arise.

“We really need the public, first of all, to understand the rules and then understand the consequences if they choose to violate the rules,” Capt. Martin said.

Last month the state police began cracking down on one-passenger cars traveling in HOV lanes in Northern Virginia. HOV restrictions require two or more passengers for vehicles using the lanes, which often accommodate traffic at higher speeds.

Police statistics from last fall show that during peak morning hours, HOV violations made up 35 percent of driving offenses on Interstate 95, 26 percent on I-395, 14 percent on I-66 outside the Beltway, 38 percent on I-66 inside the Beltway and 28 percent on the Dulles Toll Road.

Since beginning the crackdown, police statewide have issued an average of more than 90 tickets a day, up from 40 before the crackdown. Between July 13 and Aug. 9, nearly 1,800 were distributed in Northern Virginia, according to state police.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Whittington W. Clement and Public Safety Secretary John W. Marshall formed the task force to recommend HOV improvements. The following are among the recommendations:

• “Assign three demerit points for second and subsequent offenses in Northern Virginia. Currently there are no demerit points. A motorist can have his or her license suspended if 18 points are assigned in a 12-month period.

• “Increase HOV-enforcement funding for Virginia State Police from $140,000 per year to $300,000 per year, through budget amendments or transfers.

• “Develop a consistent and enforceable definition of the HOV exemption for motorists going to and from the Dulles Airport.

• “Reinstate HOV-3 on the I-395 southbound HOV lanes between Duke Street and Route 644 once capacity is increased as part of the Springfield Interchange Improvement Project. Non-HOV traffic has been permitted to use this four-mile stretch during HOV hours since the mid-1980s due to severe congestion in the regular lanes.”

The task-force members include Capt. Martin; Thomas F. Farley, Northern Virginia district administrator for the state Transportation Department; J. Marc Copeland, a senior policy analyst at the Department of Motor Vehicles; Elmer Tippett, vice president for public safety for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority; Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic; and Young Ho Chang, director of the Fairfax County Transportation Department.

Meanwhile, Cpl. Rob Moroney, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said troopers tend to give out fewer citations for HOV violations during the summer because many people are on vacation. He said police monitoring the restricted lanes on Interstate 270 and on U.S. Route 50 are working overtime to enforce the rules thanks to a federal grant of nearly $100,000.

“When those first few days of school start and someone tries to pass in an HOV lane, there’s going to be troopers in Maryland to give them citations,” Cpl. Moroney said.

The fine for a first HOV offense in Maryland is $70 and one point on the driver’s record.

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