Nearly one of every six cars in the express lanes on Utah freeways are breaking the rules twice the national average by crossing double-white lines, not having the required number of riders or by failing to pay tolls.
State officials say that alarms federal regulators, and could lead to sanctions if violation rates are not lowered over time.
So the state is planning an enforcement blitz next Tuesday through Thursday to ticket scofflaws and bring more attention to express-lane rules.
"Too often, Utah drivers are violating the law by using the express lane as a passing lane, or crossing the double white lines, which is unsafe and illegal," said Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Todd Johnson.
"With this blitz, our goal is to significantly reduce Utah's alarmingly high rate of express lanes violations and keep Utah's roads safe," he said. Citations could cost up to $100, and put points for a moving violation on driving records.
"Traffic goes a lot faster in the express lanes, so crossing the double-white lines is very dangerous," in part because traffic there is not expecting it, said Carlos Braceras, deputy director of the Utah Department of Transportation.
UDOT spokeswoman Mindy Nelson said the state conducted a study on express lane compliance last February, as is required annually because of federal funding that pays for the lanes. It showed that 17 percent of traffic in express lanes committed some violation there.
She said the federal government expects violation rates to be between 8 and 15 percent. She said if the rates stay high and if the state does not make significant efforts to lower them, it could face sanctions.
So the state has been running online ads and billboards urging compliance, and will conduct the enforcement blitz next week.
Nelson said state officials do not know why Utah has such a high violation rate, but it could be in part that the lanes are relatively new and some may still think mistakenly they may be used as passing lanes.
"But we would hope they have been around long enough that people are used to the rules now, but we're really not sure what the cause is. We're hoping some of these campaigns will make people more aware," Nelson said.
Only carpoolers (with at least two riders), buses, motorcycles, C-decal (clean-fuel) vehicles and single riders who pay a toll through an electronic reader are allowed in express lanes. Entering and exiting the lanes are allowed only in designated stretches with dotted white lines, and are not allowed in areas with double-white lines.
UDOT studies have found that the express lanes carry twice as many people as regular lanes because of carpooling, and speeds average 10 mph faster. They also have fewer accidents.
"Our main purpose for having express lanes is to move traffic more efficiently. So we want to make sure they are being used correctly, and also want people to be safe," Nelson said.
UDOT has a Web page with more information about the lanes at http://www.udot.utah.gov/expresslanes/.