TEMPE, Ariz. — The number of high occupancy vehicle lane citations Arizona Department of Public Safety officers issued last year increased by about 50 percent compared to four years prior.
The department issued 7,364 citations in 2015 compared to 4,886 in 2011. With the exception of a slight drop in 2014, the number of citations has risen steadily.
Officers focused more attention on the HOV lanes after residents complained about reckless driving, DPS Captain Damon Cecil said. The department diverted more motorcycle officers to take care of the issue.
So why do people drive in the HOV lane?
Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said the reason is more innocent than you might think.
“People do it in good faith, they’re driving thinking, ‘Well there’s an extra lane, what am I doing here? Why don’t I get in the lane?’” Gutier said.
Gutier also mentioned that motorists usually drive 5 to 15 mph over the speed limit when using the HOV lanes, while traffic may stand still in the other four or five lanes. This situation poses a challenge to officers.
“During rush hour, pulling somebody over in the HOV lane is probably one of the trickiest things that a trooper has to do – and dangerous,” Cecil said.
When caught, drivers can either pull over onto the left shoulder, if there is one – or cross lanes of traffic. Either way, the situation becomes dangerous.
“It’s almost a no-win situation,” Cecil said.
The law states that during the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, only certain drivers can use the lane. Vehicles carrying two or more people or those that have the Arizona “Blue Sky” license plate are OK during rush hour.
Certain other vehicles – tow truck operators, motorcyclists, public transportation vehicles and law enforcement – also can use the lane.
If caught violating the HOV rules, Cecil said he will have no pity for you.
“We hear a lot of different excuses,” Cecil said. “If you’re caught using the HOV lane by a trooper and you get pulled over, there’s really no excuse that’s going to get you out of that citation.”
A violation carries a $400 minimum fine. The state recently began installing more than 250 signs that say “HOV Violation $400 Minimum” along Valley freeways with HOV lanes.