Some drivers get creative pretending they are eligible to use the HOV lanes by putting a dummy in the passenger seat. These photos show a few of the “passengers” confronted by Washington State Patrol troopers in the past few years. (Photos courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

Some drivers get creative pretending they are eligible to use the HOV lanes by putting a dummy in the passenger seat. These photos show a few of the “passengers” confronted by Washington State Patrol troopers in the past few years. (Photos courtesy of Washington State Patrol)

Carpool lane cheaters face stiffer fines starting Sunday

EVERETT — They aren’t hard to find.

Washington State Patrol trooper Rocky Oliphant needed less than 20 minutes to pull over two violators in an HOV lane along I-5 near Lynnwood the other day.

Each year, thousands of tickets are given. It’s a calculated risk many are willing to take for a quicker commute.

“Normally it’s not a surprise to them,” Oliphant said.

The statewide violation rate is estimated between 5 and 10 percent, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Beginning Sunday, people driving solo in the carpool lane will have more reason to think twice. That’s when higher fines kick in statewide.

The change increases the existing fine, adds a higher fine for repeat offenders and slaps an extra fine for those who use a fake passenger. The new maximum fine will be $536.

The changes include raising the initial violation fine from $136 to $186 and creating a $336 fine for repeat violations within a two-year period.

Then there’s the dummy clause. It adds a $200 fine for anyone caught trying to use a doll, dummy or other item to make it appear another person is in the vehicle. The $200 fine is on top of the underlying violation, creating a possible maximum fine of $536.

Don’t expect leniency in the early days since people already know they shouldn’t be by themselves in an HOV lane.

“We won’t have a grace period,” Oliphant said.

HOV lanes were designed to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles. They usually move more people than a general purpose lane, even when they don’t look full.

HOV violations are one of the top traffic complaints the Department of Transportation and State Patrol receive.

New signs will be posted along several state highways reminding travelers of the new maximum fines.

During an emphasis patrol in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in September, troopers gave out 1,671 HOV violations, including 17 drivers who were ticketed on two separate occasions and one driver who received three HOV violation tickets during the week-long emphasis patrol.

The State Patrol handed out 13,448 tickets in 2018 and 5,849 warnings.

HOV violators can be reported to the Department of Transportation’s HERO program online or by calling 1-877-764-HERO.

People made 64,618 such reports during the 2017-18 year.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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