- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

Drivers who illegally use Northern Virginia’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes face an increased risk of getting caught beginning next month.

“If you violate HOV lanes, you will be stopped and you will be ticketed,” Sgt. Wallace Bouldin of the Virginia State Police said yesterday.

As of July 1, fines are being increased to $1,000 for a fourth offense.

“We have people with five to seven HOV violations over a six- or seven-year period,” Sgt. Bouldin said.

Although the fine for a first violation remains $50, penalties for a second violation are increasing from $100 to $200, and a third violation has been doubled to $500. The new fine structure does not apply to HOV lanes in the Hampton Roads area.

The metropolitan area has some of the most congested roads in the nation. Daily HOV lane usage on Interstate 95 south of Springfield has increased to 16,000 people in the past five years from about 10,000 in 1998, said Tom Farley, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) regional administrator.

HOV lanes on Interstates 95 and 395 require three or more persons per vehicle, and lanes on Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road are open to vehicles with two or more riders.

I-395’s HOV lanes carry about 29,380 people each day in 7,900 vehicles, compared with 21,300 people in 18,440 vehicles in each regular traffic lane, VDOT figures show.

“Large numbers of cheaters are clearly threatening the viability of the lanes,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which supports the stiffer fines.

Mr. Anderson said keeping the lanes open for carpools and buses is vital to regional mobility.

Overhead message signs now display messages warning of the increased fines. In the past year, state police have issued 19,042 citations, up 2,000 from the previous 12-month period.

Sgt. Bouldin said officers have been instructed to include HOV enforcement in their patrol duties.

A task force convened last summer by the commonwealth’s secretaries of transportation and public safety recommended stepped-up enforcement, heftier fines and the assessment of points on the driver’s licenses of violators.

Although each violation is still subject to $39 in court costs, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles now will assess three demerit points for the third and fourth violations. The accumulation of points can lead to higher insurance rates for motorists.

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