- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2003

Starting tomorrow, Virginia State Police officers will accept no excuses before ticketing drivers who violate high-occupancy-vehicle lane restrictions.

In the first move by a task force that is cracking down on HOV-lane misuse, state officials will increase the number of officers on Interstates 95, 395 and 66, and on the Dulles Toll Road.

“At the first meeting, [task force members] said, ‘This is something we can do now, so let’s get on with it,’” said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

Officers will not give reprieves to drivers who get on HOV lanes thinking they can get off before restriction hours start, nor will they excuse drivers who are not clear about the HOV rules.

The state will inform drivers about the tighter enforcement by posting overhead highway signs warning commuters that violators will be ticketed at the start of the restriction period. Also, radio ads will clue drivers in to the “No Excuses” enforcement.

“Many, many things are being looked at,” said Lt. Tom Martin of the Virginia State Police. “But we felt this was important enough for us to take action on as early as possible.”

Other considerations include increasing fines for drivers without the appropriate number of passengers in their vehicles and instituting a system by which points would be added to violators’ driver’s licenses. The task force is set to report to department secretaries on more suggestions for curbing violations by Aug. 15.

The fine for HOV violators is $50 plus court costs for a first offense. It increases with each subsequent offense, up to a $500 fine plus court costs for a fourth offense within three years.

State officials say the number of drivers who violate lane rules has doubled in the past four years, slowing the trips of HOV commuters. On a typical workday morning, Interstate 95 has more drivers in the HOV lanes than in the four regular lanes.

More than two-thirds of drivers in the I-95 car-pool lanes between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. are there illegally, according to VDOT.

In the morning rush hour, more than a third of drivers in I-95 HOV lanes and on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway are violating the rules, according to the Associated Press. About a quarter of the drivers on Interstate 395 and the toll road are misusing the lanes.

Lt. Martin said the state police usually distribute between 14,000 and 15,000 summonses a year to HOV violators. He said he could not speculate about how many would be given with this added enforcement.

However, he said strict enforcement will continue until it’s clear that drivers get the point that HOV violations will not be tolerated.

“It’s not going to be just for a day or two,” Lt. Martin said. “It’s going to be continuous until we have complete cooperation.”

State police are using overtime funds and asking VDOT for additional money for enforcement, he said. He said the state has had some problems enforcing HOV lanes because there are not always enough officers to monitor the lanes.

“What happens when we don’t use overtime funds is, there is so much stuff going on, we can’t dedicate what we need to enforcing the rules,” Lt. Martin said.

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