Although HOV lanes may be a boon to traffic congestion, they pose significant risks of collisions and special risks for motorcycles. The Law Offices of Mauro Fiore, Jr. represents motorcyclists who have been injured or died in traffic accidents, including those involving HOV lanes.
High-occupancy vehicle lanes, or HOV lanes, are lanes especially designated solely for the use of cars with more than one occupant. In Los Angeles and Southern California, most HOV lanes are for cars including at least two occupants. Some hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles which have acquired a special permit may also use the HOV lane, due to an incentive program designed to encourage the purchase of high-mileage, low-emission cars. Significantly, motorcycles are also allowed to travel in HOV lanes. While this option may seem a safer alternative for motorcyclists to get through heavy traffic than lane splitting, traveling in the HOV lane contains serious risks that should be considered.
HOV lanes may seem like a godsend for people who are eligible to use them. During peak traffic times, cars in the much-less congested carpool lanes seem to fly by their unfortunate peers traveling in the same direction in the regular lanes. This significant speed differential, however, can lead to tragic results. Cars enter the HOV lanes at a much slower speed than cars already traveling in the lane, increasing the likelihood of a rear-end collision where one or the other driver misjudges the distance required to merge safely. Likewise, cars leaving the HOV lane may do so at a higher speed than the regular traffic, without thinking of the danger. Where HOV lanes exist, the adjacent lane sees significantly more accidents than the other general-purpose lanes to the right.
While some HOV lanes are physically separated from the other lanes by buffers, barriers, or medians, miles and miles of HOV lanes are separated only by special striping on the highway surface. Even though entrance and exit areas are marked, there is no physical impediment to traveling back and forth between the lanes at any given location. A recent California study found that more accidents occur where entrance and exit to the HOV lane is restricted. This type of HOV lane is common throughout Southern California, as opposed to the northern part of the state, where entry and exit to the HOV lane may occur anywhere along the route. The limited time frame within which to change lanes increases the likelihood of a collision occurring. Popular entrances/exits can actually increase congestion at these junctures, increasing the necessity for sudden rapid slowdowns and emergency braking to avoid (and thereby causing) rear-end collisions.