If you’re driving on your own to work and the lane you’re in is marked with a diamond, don’t be surprised to see flashing lights in your rear view mirror.

The Ontario Provincial Police is cracking down on motorists abusing the GTA’s high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in a two-day blitz. The aim is to make sure only people abiding by the rules are using the special right of way.

There are currently two areas where the HOV lanes are in place – on the Highway 403 in both directions between the 407 and the 401, and on Highway 404 southbound from Highway 7 to the 401. To drive in those lanes there must be at least two individuals in the car.

OPP Sgt. Cam Woolley, who estimated nearly a dozen cars had been pulled over in less than 30 minutes during the Monday morning rush, feels the carpool lanes are a good idea.

“The reason we are seeing more getting caught is (because) the general purpose lanes are getting heavy. The temptation becomes too much for some drivers, and we have seen, 1,250 vehicles use that lane every hour,” he said.

“That means that many other cars are off the road because people are doubling up. That helps the Don Valley Parkway. That helps the 401. That helps downtown. Overall it’s a good thing.”

The lanes cost the Ontario Ministry of Transportation more than $100 million, and plans are underway to bring them to other areas of the province. A northbound HOV lane is planned for Highway 404 on the same stretch as the southbound lane, and more are being considered for the Queen Elizabeth Way between Guelph Line in Burlington and Trafalgar Road in Oakville.

Drivers have mixed feelings about whether the special lanes make any difference.

“There’s already a pile-up. I don’t think it makes a whole lot of difference in time-saving,” said one motorist.

Another added, “What do you gain – 10 minutes? All that money spent for 10 minutes. I don’t think it’s worth it.”

Woolley says that about 300 tickets are handed out each month to drivers who abuse the HOV lanes. The penalty is $110 and three demerit points.

“We catch a lot of bad drivers,” the OPP sergeant admits. “We found suspended drivers, wanted criminals. People with no insurance. Found all kinds of problems. This seems to be one of those events that attracts bad drivers.”

Woolley said there’s no end to people’s creativity in attempts to cheat their way onto the speedy strip.

“One day there was a lady who put a baby seat in. She stuffed a child’s coat so it looked like Kenny from South Park. That didn’t work,” he said.

The OPP blitz continues Tuesday.

High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes

Who can use them?

Anyone, as long as they have at least two people onboard. That includes:

  • Cars
  • Minivans
  • Motorcycles
  • Taxis or limousines
  • Trucks less than 6.5 metres in length
  • All buses (with or without passengers)

Note: Commercial trucks greater than 6.5 metres long and with a gross weight of greater than 4,500 kg. and taxis or limos not carrying a fare aren’t allowed to use the lanes. The same goes for a solo motorcycle rider.

Do kids count?

Yes they do. The Ministry of Transportation doesn’t make any specific prohibition about age.

Who Can’t Use The Lanes?

  • Cars with only one driver
  • Motorcycles which have only the driver on them
  • Commercial trucks greater than 6.5 metres in length or with a gross weight of more than 4,500 kg
  • Taxis or limousines without a fare

Where are they?

HOV lanes are built in the leftmost lane of the highway, separated from general traffic by a striped buffer zone and identified by signs and diamond symbols painted on the highway.

They’re similar to the carpool lanes on many city streets, with one big difference – those are restricted to cars with more than one person at designated hours, usually during the morning and afternoon rush.

The HOV lanes are meant to be used only by the designated drivers 24 hours a day.

The Ministry explains that the highways are almost always busy and allowing them to be used at other times would not only defeat their purpose, but cause confusion for drivers.

What if there’s an accident?

The O.P.P. or other police forces can decide to temporarily open the lanes to all vehicles if there’s an accident blocking traffic elsewhere.

Are we the first?

Nope. HOV lanes are in wide use across the U.S., including Washington D.C., Atlanta and Seattle, as well as Texas and California. They’re also in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa.

Are more coming?

You bet. A northbound HOV lane is planned for Highway 404 between Highway 401 and north of Highway 7, to match the southbound lane.

And the government says HOV lanes are being considered for the Queen Elizabeth Way between Guelph Line in Burlington and Trafalgar Road in Oakville.

Source: Ministry of Transportation