HOV policy


HOV lanes are designed to maximize the movement of people rather than vehicles, so they often have more people in them than the other lanes even when they don’t look full. Overall, HOV lanes move about 35 percent of the people on rush hour freeways in only about 19 percent of the vehicles. The average HOV lane is carrying more than 1½ times as many people as the “regular” lane next to it, and is saving users time in each corridor. These averages are based on peak commuting periods and directions. 

Our mission and objective

WSDOT has established policies regarding the HOV system. The goals of the system are:

  • To maximize the people-carrying capacity of the freeway system by providing incentives to use buses, vanpools, and carpools.
  • To provide capacity for future travel growth.
  • To help reduce transportation-related pollution and dependency on fossil fuels.

Through HOV programs and policies we strive to make the best use of existing facilities by increasing freeway efficiency and promoting programs to move more people in fewer vehicles.

Users of the HOV system cite many benefits:

  • Using the HOV lanes saves time and money, reduces stress, and is a more convenient way to travel.
  • Travelling in an HOV lane is usually faster than the other lanes, even when the HOV lane is crowded.
  • People who carpool, vanpool, or ride transit can save thousands of dollars on their annual commute cost.
  • Every shared ride reduces the number of car trips on the overall transportation system.
  • Every saved car trip supports better air quality and helps to reduce this area’s contribution to greenhouse gasses and global warming.

We can’t build our way out of congestion. However, we can make the best possible use of existing highway capacity. We are continually looking into ways to maximize efficiency to help keep people moving on our highways.  HOV policy is being updated to include HOT lanes and other forms of congestion management.

Speed and reliability standards

We've established performance standards to ensure that the state's freeway HOV system helps provide reliable travel time and dependability for transit users, vanpoolers, and carpoolers. The speed and reliability of the HOV system are monitored throughout the year.

The current performance standard states that a driver in an HOV lane should be able to maintain an average speed of 45 mph or greater at least 90 percent of the time during the morning and afternoon rush hour. The I-5 and I-405 HOV lanes are not meeting this performance standard, nor is SR 520 during the afternoon peak in the westbound direction.  WSDOT initiated a study in 2007 to look at ways to help over-utilized HOV lanes. 

Monitoring data are available on a freeway performance website maintained by the Transportation Center at the University of Washington.   

Laws & statutes relating to HOV lanes

Enabling Legislation for Freeway HOV Lanes

The primary enabling legislation for HOV lanes is RCW 46.61.165 and RCW 47.52.025. These two Revised Codes of Washington give WSDOT the right to designate any lane or ramp for HOVs if it will increase the efficient utilization of the highway or will aid in the conservation of energy resources.

The Washington Administrative Code 468-510-010 provides that vehicles with the number of occupants specified on roadway signs may use HOV lanes, with the exception of trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. Recreational vehicles are not subject to this weight limit. Buses, motorcycles, and all law enforcement and emergency vehicles are allowed to use the lanes regardless of the number of occupants.

Enabling Legislation for HOT Lanes

The enabling legislation for high occupancy toll lanes (HOT lanes) is Substitute House Bill 1179. This bill authorizes WSDOT to test HOT lanes on SR 167 in order to help maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the freeway system.   

Funding and guidelines

FHWA Federal HOV Guidance

The Federal Highway Administration provided much of the money used to build our freeway HOV lanes. In return we follow federal guidance when determining many aspects of state HOV lane operations.  

Governor’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Goals

Governor Gregoire has established goals to help reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and global warming. Almost half of Washington State’s greenhouse gases are transportation-related. HOV lanes play an important part in helping to meet these greenhouse reduction goals.  

Washington Transportation Plan

The Washington Transportation Plan is a blueprint for transportation programs and investments.  The plan covers all modes of Washington's transportation system: roadways, ferries, public transportation, aviation, freight rail, passenger rail, marine ports and navigation, bicycles, and pedestrians. The freeway HOV system plays an integral part in overall transportation efficiency discussed in this document.

Puget Sound Regional Council:  Destination 2030 & Transportation 2040

Destination 2030 is the current long-range transportation plan for the central Puget Sound region. The plan is about making traffic better, keeping pace with growth, and supporting the region's economic and environmental health.  Developed by the Puget Sound Regional Council and member government agencies, this plan relies upon freeway HOV lanes as an important part of the region's mobility, economic vitality, and transportation future. 

Destination 2030 is in the process of being updated.  The new plan, Transportation 2040, relies on the conversion of the HOV system into tolled and express facilities.  A Final Environmental Impact Statement  is now available .

Transportation Demand Management

Transportation demand management (TDM) is about using our transportation systems more efficiently. Examples include encouraging people to carpool, vanpool, ride the bus or train, work from home, flex their work schedules, bicycle, walk, combine errands, and more. Visit our TDM page to help reduce your car trips and lessen environmental impacts and global warming.