Stats show more drivers use HOV lanes illegally

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As the number of people moving to the Nashville area grows by the day, so does the number of cars on the interstates.

HOV lanes were created to help with that congestion with carpooling, but the latest numbers show a growing number of drivers are using the lanes against the law.

“That is a problem right there,” said East Nashville driver Stephanie Gordon. “When you have to watch other people float by you and you can’t go.”

The latest stats from the Tennessee Highway Patrol show citations statewide have grown over the past four years. The biggest jump was from 2016 to 2017 by almost 250 percent.

Wilson and Rutherford counties both share the top spot for repeat offenders with seven repeat HOV convictions since 2013.

News 2 put the morning rush hour to the test. Within a one-mile span on Interstate 65 in Goodlettsville News 2 crews spotted 14 of 17 cars driving illegally in the HOV lane. At least 70 violators were spotted by crews in a two-mile span.

“What’s frustrating is that people choose to violate the law on a daily basis, on a blatant basis,” said Lt. Bill Miller with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

But the stats likely show only a fraction of violators. Lt. Miller said the sheer number of violators makes enforcement a challenge.

“Even if I have 10 troopers out there, and enforcing only HOV, we are going to have 10 cars stopped in a matter of minutes,” explained Lt. Miller. “So, as those 10 are cited, there’s going to be violation after violation going by.”

Two other priorities include manpower and safety.

“We need to catch those drivers driving recklessly,” said Lt. Miller. “The inside lane, most times, are close to a concrete wall. [There’s] not much room to pull someone over.”

The only feasible option is to pull offenders over in the right shoulder lane.

“So I’d stop one, get behind him in the far left lane, have to bring across one, two, three, four lanes,” said Lt. Miller.

Critics ask if HOV lanes are so difficult to enforce, why not just do away with them?

“They could take one of the freeways and try it,” said commuter Grafton Smith.

In doing that, the state would lose out on millions of dollars in federal transportation funding that’s tied to having HOV lanes.

“If you’re going to have HOV lanes, the theory is, we should use them properly,” said state Sen. Jack Johnson.

Sen. Johnson said this can be done through awareness. He’s co-sponsoring a bill that would double HOV fines from $50 to $100, adding $50 to each additional violation. That money would go directly to adding more HOV signage to the interstates.

“The purpose is to heighten awareness, educate people, encourage more voluntary compliance,” said Sen. Johnson.

Until that bill becomes law, compliance will remain up to drivers.

“I don’t think they think it’s a big deal,” said driver Brianna Breyer, adding, “Because they don’t think they’ll get caught.”

That’s a mindset Lt. Miller hopes people will change.

“Time is eventually going to catch up with them. We’re not going to stop every violator. That’s not physically possible,” said Lt. Miller. “But if you choose to push the odds enough, it just takes one time and we will stop you.”

The Senate and House version of the proposed bill have yet to pass and are waiting on a floor vote.