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California Carpool Lane (HOV)Violation

For drivers in California, traveling in bumper-to-bumper traffic is nothing out of the ordinary. No matter which freeway or highway you frequent, if you’re planning on reaching your destination within a reasonable time, you need to prepare accordingly.

One solution that California offers to alleviate the congestion of cars on the road is the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, more commonly known as the “carpool” lane.

The carpool lane is a driving lane in which only vehicles carrying two or more occupants may enter. The carpool lane is generally located in the far left lane of most California freeways. A white diamond symbol is painted on the road to signify an HOV lane. California Vehicle Code Section 21655.5 states that the HOV lane was created to “stimulate and encourage the development of ways and means of relieving traffic congestion on California highways and, at the same time, to encourage individual citizens to pool their vehicular resources and thereby conserve fuel and lessen emission of air pollutants.” 1

What are the Laws Governing Carpool Violations in California?

Generally, the laws governing the use of the HOV lane are the same throughout California. There are, however, some differences between the laws in Northern California and Southern California.

In Northern California, HOV lanes are only operational on Monday through Friday during posted peak congestion hours. For example, between 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., vehicles carrying two or more occupants may use the HOV lane. All other vehicles may use the lanes during off-peak hours. This is referred to as “part-time” operation. 2

In Southern California, The HOV lanes are in effect 24-hours a day, 7-days a week and referred to as “full-time” operation. 3 Regardless of your location within California, a vehicle may only enter an operational carpool lane when that vehicle is carrying two or more individuals.

Under California law, pets and infants still inside the womb do not count as passengers.

Who Can Use the HOV Lane?

In addition to vehicles carrying two or more occupants, California Vehicle Code §§21655.5 lists other vehicles that may travel in the HOV lane regardless of the number of occupants, hovincluding:

  • Motorcycles
  • Mass Transit Vehicles
  • Paratransit Vehicles that are clearly and identifiable marked on all sides, and; 4
  • Vehicles that meet specified emissions standards and are displaying official California Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) Decals.

Hybrid Cars and Carpool Lane

According to California law, if your vehicle is a ‘qualified clean alternative fuel vehicle’, you may travel in the HOV lane without any additional passengers.

If your vehicle is eligible, it is required that you display a Clean Air Vehicle Sticker issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, there are currently two types of stickers that the DMV is distributing:

  • White Clean Air Vehicle decals: These are available to an unlimited number of qualifying Federal Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEVs). Cars that meet these requirements are typically certified pure zero emission vehicles (100% battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. Per AB 266, the expiration date for the white stickers has been extended to January 1, 2019. 5
  • Green Clean Air Vehicle decals: Clean Air Vehicle decals were originally available to the first 40,000 applicants that purchased or leased cars meeting California’s transitional zero emission vehicles (TZEV) requirement. This is also known as the enhanced advanced technology partial zero emission vehicle (AT PZEV)* requirement. Per SB 286, the expiration date for the green decals has been extended to January 1, 2019. Per budget trailer bill, SB 853 (Statutes 2014, chapter 27), the green decal limit was increased by 15,000 to 55,000 decals effective July 1, 2014. Now, per AB 2013, effective January 1, 2015, an additional 15,000 decals will be available for a new maximum of 70,000. 6

It is important to note that as of July 1, 2011, Yellow Clean Air Vehicle decals for hybrid vehicles are no longer valid.

Punishment for Illegal use of HOV Lane

For first time offenders who are illegally in the carpool lane and charged with violating CVC 21655.5b, the minimum fine is $481. 6Wrongful use of the carpool lane is not a moving violation and no points will be assessed to your drivers’ license.

If you are cited for crossing over double yellow lines to enter or exit a carpool lane you will likely be charged under CVC 21655.8. First time offenders will be fined between $100 and $150. Because this is a moving violation, you may receive a point on your drivers’ license.

Wallin & Klarich Can Help you with your Traffic Violation Case

If you are accused of committing a traffic violation in California, you should speak to a traffic attorney immediately. Our traffic violation defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience fighting to protect our client’s rights. Every Wallin & Klarich traffic lawyer is assigned to handle cases in specific traffic courts only, and each attorney is very familiar and experienced with the customs, judges, and procedures of the traffic courts he or she has been assigned. Our attorneys will fight to help you obtain the best result possible outcome in your traffic matter.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich California criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


1. [http://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/vctop/vc/d11/c3/a1/21655.5]
2. [http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/trafmgmt/hov/hov_sys/]
3. [Id.]
4. [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=veh&group=21001-22000&file=21650-21664]
5. [http://arbis.arb.ca.gov/msprog/carpool/carpool.htm#vehicles]
6. [Id.]
7. [http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/paffairs/faq/faq79.htm]

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