HOV Cheaters Run the Numbers: 65 MPH vs. $1,000

Virginia State Trooper Roy Proctor walks back to his cruiser as Keith Yarbrough tosses aside the paperwork for an HOV violation on Interstate 66. (Dominic Bracco II - For The Washington Post)
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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

HOV cheaters have a special, and dark, place in the hearts of area commuters.

As motorists sit in stop-and-go traffic or pick up strangers to meet the minimum number of riders to use the free-flowing HOV lanes, cheaters blithely fly by in the restricted lanes. Alone.

"I run the gantlet and hope I don't get caught," said Thomas Edward James, 44, who commutes to the District from Fairfax County on Interstate 66. He has been ticketed seven times.

"It's a cost-benefit sort of decision that you make every morning," he said. "It's partially laziness. I don't feel like getting off and dealing with all those traffic lights."

Besides, the odds are in his favor.

"Let's be honest: I make it most of the time," he said.

The Washington Post, using court records and databases, tracked down the biggest HOV offenders in Virginia, some with as many as 10 violations, and asked them why they ignored the law even after being caught again and again. The answers ranged from guilt-ridden angst to a sense that a quick ride was well worth a roll of the dice. Others lost their driver's licenses, saw their insurance premiums double and received thousands of dollars in tickets.

But there was a common thread throughout the comments that revealed a sense of the daily misery of the Washington area commute. And that it can make good people behave very badly.

"Sometimes when you commute, you do some crazy, crazy things when you see all those red lights in front of you," said Aleta Joy Williams, 43, a daily cheater who has racked up 10 HOV violations on Interstate 95/395 commuting between Stafford and Fairfax counties. "The commuter mind-set is just totally different. You need to be at a certain place at a certain time, and you are willing to do whatever it takes to get to where you need to."

Cheaters got 22,532 tickets in Northern Virginia in 2007, according to Virginia State Police statistics, and they are the focus of law enforcement attention and the ire of fellow drivers. Violators risk a $1,000 ticket and three points on their driver's licenses.

Walter P. Magnotta, 33, a District real estate lawyer, called his eight HOV violations on I-95/395 "an opportunity cost."

In addition to interstates 95/395 and 66, there are HOV lanes on the Dulles Toll Road. Maryland has HOV lanes on Interstate 270 and Route 50 in Maryland, but the Virginia routes are far more congested.

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