Washington State Patrol troopers cited 170 high-occupancy vehicle lane violators during a 2 1/2 hour emphasis patrol on Wednesday, according to Trooper Rick Johnson.
HOV violations are the most reported complaint among drivers in King County, he said.
“It’s been a common complaint since HOV lanes were born and we enforce it daily,” he said. “But I wanted to let people know ‘we hear you.’”
Over the years, the Patrol has seen a range of HOV violators, from those who flagrantly flout the occupancy lane laws to those who do so sneakily, propping dummies, mannequins, cardboard cutouts and even backpacks topped with hats in passenger seats.
For a first HOV violation, the fine is $186, and all subsequent violations within a two-year period increase to $336, according to Washington State Department of Transportation. If a doll or dummy is in the car, an additional $200 will be added to the fine.
The problem is not limited to King County, according to Trooper Robert Reyer, who is the Patrol spokesperson for Pierce and Thurston counties.
He said he’s been seeing a lot more aggressive driving, including tailgating, cutting people off and hopping solo into the HOV lane, compared with before the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, it’s escalated to road rage, Reyer said.
“It’s very hard to pinpoint why people seem to have changed that much, but it’s definitely noticeable,” he said. “People are not as patient as they seemed before. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten how to apply courtesy and manners.”
Reyer said he discussed this phenomenon of post-COVID driving aggression with a psychologist, who said he wasn’t surprised.
There have been a number of studies, the psychologist explained to Reyer, showing that even very peaceful animals can turn aggressive when confined to a small space. Ordinarily tranquil animals may attack others unprovoked, including their own offspring.
The combination of isolation and confinement experienced during the lockdowns was not good for us, he said.
And because you never know the issues facing the driver next to you and because you can’t control the behavior of others, it’s always much safer and wiser to pause before reacting, Reyer said.
“It could be upsetting when someone cuts me off and I might feel the need to honk my horn, or use a gesture or a facial expression to express my dissatisfaction,” he said. “But for sure the best thing is to take a very deep breath, count to 10 and not respond.”
The worst thing to do is mirror the aggression.
“You don’t know what the other person is capable of,” he said. “Just get in your car. Go from point A to point B, be patient and stay safe.”
The State Patrol has not announced any upcoming HOV emphasis patrols in King County, Johnson said, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one.
“We don’t always let the public know in advance,” he said.