- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

Police officials in Maryland and Virginia said yesterday they are cracking down on motorists who drive in HOV lanes without the minimum number of passengers.

In Maryland, recent grants have helped state police ticket motorists driving in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes without a passenger.

“It’s a saturation patrol,” said Maj. Terry Custer of the state police’s College Park barracks.

Officials said they have written hundreds of tickets in the past several weeks and are focusing on the 7.9 miles of restricted lanes on Interstate 270, east of U.S. 301 to the Capital Beltway.

Troopers from College Park and Rockville barracks are “aggressively” enforcing the rules during the morning and afternoon rush hours and occasionally using unmarked cars to catch motorists, said a state police official who called HOV enforcement a priority.

State police officials in Northern Virginia said yesterday that complaints from motorists have forced them to take similar action.

Secretary of Transportation Whittington W. Clement and Secretary of Public Safety John W. Marshall said yesterday they have started a task force to investigate better methods of enforcing HOV lane restrictions.

Increasing ticket fines, adding more points to licenses and stepping up patrols are among the potential solutions.

Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said too many drivers without passengers are clogging HOV lanes on the Dulles Toll Road and on Interstates 66, 95 and 395, which has slowed commutes for authorized users.

The task force will include members of VDOT, the state police, the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority and the Department of Motor Vehicles and is expected to complete its study by Aug. 15.

An estimated 38 percent of vehicles on Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway have only one person in the car. Roughly 26 percent of motorists do the same on Interstate 395, according to a letter from Mr. Clement to state police and VDOT officials. The letter also stated HOV regulations need to be enforced to address the growing concern among business leaders, residents and the news media.

“The state does a tremendous amount in terms of building HOV lanes and advertising them … so we want to safeguard them,” Miss Morris said. “It’s clear we need to get our arms around this growing problem.”

Maryland officers are trying to do the same.

Enforcement of the HOV lane violations has tripled on Interstate 270 since a $40,000 state grant arrived two weeks ago, said Lt. Bill Tower, commander of the Rockville barracks.

Maj. Custer said yesterday that a federal grant has helped state police give more than 50 tickets in the past two weeks to HOV-lane violators on Highway 50, from the Capital Beltway to Route 301.

“Before the grant came through, there was very little enforcement,” he said.

Paul Flanagan of Edgewater, Md., said it was about time that officers start enforcing HOV rules. He estimates that 40 percent of the drivers he has seen in the Route 50 HOV lanes have no passenger.

“You’re trying to get to work and obey the laws and you see people just zipping by you,” he said.

Mr. Flanagan said he also has noticed some cars being pulled over in the past couple weeks, but that the state police need more money and troopers to catch more offenders.

Lt. Tower also said troopers were busy investigating wrecks, helping with disabled vehicles and other duties before the grant came, so few were available to concentrate solely on HOV enforcement.

The enforcement, he said, could also reduce the number of accidents on highways with HOV lanes because drivers who use them only to speed past others will have to slow down.

“Our intent is to get people to obey the law,” Lt. Tower said. “If people insist on violating the regulations, they’re going to be stopped and given a citation.”

Maryland officials said they did not have the exact number of citations given for HOV violations. Virginia officials said troopers issue about 15,000 to 17,000 tickets annually in Northern Virginia.

Miss Morris said most of those are given at the beginning or end of restricted times. She said many motorists think they can get away with HOV violations right before the restricted hours begin.

The HOV lanes on Route 50 in Maryland are restricted 24 hours a day. The Interstate 270 HOV lanes are restricted to vehicles carrying two persons in the south direction from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and in the northbound lanes from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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