A carpool lane may be known by many other names, like a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane or commuter lane. These lanes are found on or off highways and freeways and are designated for people driving with usually at least one passenger. They may help encourage commuting or sharing cars, and they can improve the speed at which people get to their destinations, especially during rush hour or high traffic hours.
The first carpool lanes in Europe were built in the 1990s, but in the US and Canada, they were installed much sooner. California had some lanes dedicated to this purpose by the 1970s, although they were often only “active” during rush hour or peak traffic times. This meant during other times, the lanes were open to anyone who wished to drive in them, no matter whether they had passengers or did not. In addition to allowing carpoolers to use the lanes, they were a frequent choice of buses too, which could quickly speed up trips via bus to various locations.
While it’s often most likely people will find these special lanes on an actual freeway or highway, they can be separated from the highway. Some are freestanding. A few are built only for people with multiple passengers.
There have been attempts by drivers to argue their right to use of a carpool lane, even when they technically shouldn’t be using it. Most times, if drivers use these without having the requisite number of passengers, they run the risk of getting a ticket or fine. People have claimed the right to use the lanes because they are pregnant, or they’ve used dummies, empty baby seats with dolls in them, and the like to avoid being detected. Usually, it’s simply not worth it to use one illegally, though it can be very tempting to do so when traffic is heavy elsewhere and the lane is invitingly empty. It can mean paying a high fine in many places, and getting a traffic ticket will slow up a driver even more.
One option for people who don’t commute with others is getting a hybrid or alternative fuel car. In some cases, high-fuel efficiency cars or alternative fuel vehicles are allowed on a carpool lane, despite the fact the car only contains the driver. This is not true in all locations.
Many people who are allowed to use these lanes may have another advantage when they cross bridges or toll roads during rush hour traffic. In some cases, charges can be reduced or eliminated if the car has three or more passengers. This may be yet another reason to commute with others: since people don’t have to stop to pay the toll, they save money and time in the process.
A related traffic control issue that has been developed in the US to improve traffic at several US/Mexican border crossings is the Secured Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). There are SENTRI lanes that allow people to cross borders more easily at many points of entry to the US. They require an application, and those approved get a decal on their cars and a radio frequency identification card that allows them to quickly cross the border. This can help speed travel and expedite border crossing for people who are considered low-risk and who must cross the border frequently.