The answer: No, unless a police officer directs you to drive in the HOV lane to get around a blocking accident, it can’t be used as a passing lane if you have fewer than the required number of passengers. Doing so can be a costly mistake: In Washington, the fine for a first-time HOV lane violation is $186 ($336 for repeat offenders). In Oregon, the initial offense is $260.
In a recent PEMCO Poll, 84% of people said they understand the laws that dictate HOV lane use, and 81% said they never duck into the lane when they know they don't meet the requirements. Yet about two-thirds said they see other drivers abusing the carpool lane.
More young drivers fess up to sometimes using the lane when they're not supposed to – 23% versus only 8% of older drivers. We're not sure if that means they do it more or they're just more honest about their behavior!
You can check out the full PEMCO Poll and see "Seven tips for rideshare/carpool newbies."
NOTE: While we're experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don't consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.