Imagine this: You are driving with a couple of passengers in your car and decide to use the high-occupancy-vehicle lane, since traffic is stop-and-go in the other five lanes. You move to the left and cross the broken white line in the area where it is legal to move into the HOV lane. Once you are within the restricted lane, the dividing line changes to double solid lines, indicating cars must not move into or out of the HOV lane until they reach the next broken-line area.
You and other drivers properly in the HOV lane are able to move considerably faster than the one-person-per-car vehicles in lanes to your right. You don't have to worry about other drivers making lane changes in front of you or so you think.
Suddenly, frustrated and impatient, a driver decides to illegally move into the HOV lane, crossing the solid line. That car was nearly stopped, and as it switches lanes, it is moving maybe 10 mph, while you and others in the HOV lane are going 65 mph or faster.
Brakes are slammed, cars skid, and, if you are lucky, you avoid a collision. The single-occupant car drives away.
The scenario is obviously dangerous, yet it happens all too often on Interstate 15 in rush-hour traffic. Anyone who carpools and regularly uses the HOV lane has seen near-misses and maybe an accident.
This dangerous maneuver happens wherever HOV lanes exist. But in Utah, a state sometimes known for discourteous and dangerous driving habits, drivers illegally use the HOV lane at a rate that sometimes is near double the national average.
The federal government says from 8 percent to 15 percent violate HOV-lane rules nationwide. In Utah, the rate is about 17 percent. That is a trend that could cost the state federal funding and, more important, could cost Utahns their lives.
During the past week, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Highway Patrol launched a "blitz" over three days to hammer the point home to Utah drivers by issuing citations and warnings to those who enter and exit the HOV lanes illegally, or drive in the lane without either paying a toll or having at least two people in the car.
Citations cost up to $100 and put points on the driver's record, used by insurance companies to set premiums.
UDOT is also running online ads and posting warnings on billboards to educate drivers. HOV lanes help move traffic more efficiently and can improve safety but only when they're used correctly and legally. Utah drivers should learn that lesson.
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