Cameras to Catch Carpool Lane Cheaters

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By: Samantha Pelto

High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes.

HOV (or carpool) lanes benefit society significantly if their restrictions are followed, but their benefits are often stunted by carpool lane cheaters. The purpose of carpool lanes is to maximize the movement of commuters, and they are prevalent in areas with heavy traffic. They are generally restricted for use by vehicles occupied by more than one person. This incentivizes commuters to carpool or ride the bus. This has the potential to significantly reduce traffic because one bus alone is able to carry the same number of people as over forty-five cars. However, there are also incentives to violate carpool lane restrictions.

Private Incentives of Violators vs. Social Benefits.

The private incentives of carpool lane violators diverge significantly from the social incentives. The private incentives are high; a commuter can save a significant amount of time by driving in a carpool lane as opposed to an unrestricted lane when there is traffic congestion. They can avoid the hassle of taking the bus or carpooling while still reaping the benefit. However, it is important to enforce carpool lane restrictions because they provide many social benefits and increase overall social welfare. For example, carpool lane restrictions decrease pollution because they decrease the number of vehicles on the road. Additionally, carpool lane restrictions decrease costs for commuters such as gas costs. They decrease traffic congestion and commuter travel time. They decrease road repair costs by decreasing the number of vehicles traveling on the road. Ensuring compliance with carpool lane restrictions will potentially reduce incidents of road rage as well.

Current Policies Are Not Deterring Violators.

It seems that many individuals are not deterred by current carpool lane restrictions. Although there are fines imposed on carpool lane violators, anyone who drives on I-5 in Seattle can see that people still violate carpool lane restrictions every day. In fact, Washington State has a program that allows drivers to complain, either online or by telephone, if they witness carpool lane violators. The HERO program aims to educate carpool lane violators on the rules, purpose, and benefits of carpool lanes. When a complaint is received, the Washington State Department of Transportation will send violators an educational brochure outlining such information. If it is the violators second offense, they are sent a letter from WSDOT. If it is their third offense, they are sent a letter from the Washington State Patrol. The program logged over 70,000 violations between 2018 and 2019. While the number of violations in Washington seems high, Washington violation rates, 5-10%, are actually lower than the national average, which is 10-15%. The large number of violations may be because the perception of the likelihood of being caught is low. The data above shows that at least 70,000 violations occurred without drivers receiving tickets.

Cameras as a Solution.

            It is important to increase carpool lane restriction enforcement, but police officers have limited resources. A potential solution to this would be to use camera technology to enforce carpool lane restrictions. Seattle has tested the effectiveness of traffic safety cameras in the past, finding the deployment of the cameras for red light violations successful. Similar to red light cameras, carpool lane cameras would be used to issue citations to violators requiring them to pay a fine. Camera technology that can count the number of passengers within a vehicle already exists, so obtaining the technology does not present a problem. In Washington, it likely would not be a problem to determine where to place the cameras either because HERO data could be used to determine where the highest number of violations occur. This solution could be implemented without expending significant resources and could even generate revenue through issuing fines to carpool lane violators.

One negative of using camera technology is the privacy concerns. However, current technology works without using facial recognition technology. Further, prior to implementing the new technology, the public should be given notice of its implementation. In addition, the camera locations should be clearly marked to give drivers the ability to choose whether they wish to drive in the carpool lane and be on camera.


Cameras should be used to increase enforcement and the perception of enforcement because this would likely decrease the number of carpool lane cheaters. Violators are more likely deterred if they perceive there will be consequences. Utilizing camera technology will also police officers time to focus on other matters. Thus, this solution will increase overall social welfare by allowing carpool lane restrictions to create the social benefits they were intended to create.

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