For HOV enforcement, cameras wouldn't always get the full picture

Thursday, November 4, 2010; PG28

A driver concerned about enforcement of the rules for carpool lanes said cheating has gotten so bad that we should consider using cameras to catch violators [Dr. Gridlock, Oct. 24]. This response recommends a person-to-person approach to enforcement.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am a retired Virginia State Police master trooper. During my employment, I wrote hundreds of tickets for violations in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

Many times, we saw vehicles that appeared to have only the driver. Upon stopping the vehicles, we found infants and older children in child seats in the back. It was impossible to see these young passengers initially, because in most cases their child seats sat very low, below the window level. If an experienced police officer has trouble seeing all the occupants, I can certainly see why the general public has the same problem.

I found that many working mothers were fortunate to have employers who provided on-the-job day care. Kids traveled back and forth with Mom and, in some cases, Dad.

Whenever I stopped a car and found children, I asked the driver to have the kids wave when a police officer pulled next to them in the HOV lanes, looking for a potential violation. I always waved back. This simple act saved many drivers from being stopped when they were complying with the law. My favorite was a young mother who had small twin daughters.

She must have been a former cheerleader, because both of the twins had pompoms that they waved whenever I passed them. That made my day!

Stanley Guess

Woodstock, Va.

DG: The letter writer describes the advantages of having humans enforce the rules, as well as the difficulties that police face in knowing which cars to target. Police also know that whenever they conduct an HOV enforcement operation, they create a hazard for the stopped vehicles and a traffic jam for the drivers in the travel lanes. Although the rules are hard to enforce in Virginia and Maryland, I still think we haven't arrived at the point where we should have cameras doing the ticketing.

By the way, this letter reminds me of the answer to a frequently asked question: There's no age requirement on passengers in HOV lanes. Babies count, although the Virginia Department of Transportation says that merely being pregnant does not.


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think I have pretty good hearing, but the Metro train operators sometimes seem to be talking to themselves instead of the passengers when making announcements. Once in a while, I get a train operator who blurts out the stops, but most of the time it's hard to hear them. I started a new method to make sure I get off at the correct stop: Before boarding, I look at a map and count how many stops there are before my destination.

Morris Semiatin


DG: Counting is one way to counter our long-standing problem with unclear or nonexistent announcements. Regular commuters probably use this and other methods to make sure they get the message.

Even if I'm reading, I recognize that the train is approaching a stop I often use when I hear the distinctive rumble of the wheels over a track switch outside the station.

What other cues can you recommend to riders?


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

When walking on a separated path used by bicyclists and pedestrians, such as the path from National Harbor to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, is there a law that requires pedestrians to walk on the right side?

I have always assumed that just as on a road with automobile traffic, it is safest to walk to the left as close to the shoulder as practical, but facing traffic, whether cars or bikes are coming at you, so that you can see vehicles approaching and take evasive action in an emergency.

But in an encounter with two bicyclists on this path, they disagreed with my view by using aggressive hand gestures as they approached and expressing contempt for me while they passed close enough to force me to stop in my tracks on the left shoulder. The brush back was totally unnecessary, because no bicycle traffic was coming from the opposite direction, and they could have easily gone around me; the path is about 10 feet across. I'd be happy to consider the best ways to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on a single artery, but am I justified in concluding that this is just aggressive driving transplanted from the Beltway to the bikeway?

Lee Cooper


DG: The trail across the bridge is such a pleasure for bikers and walkers. I'm sorry your experience was spoiled by rude behavior. The rules of the path are a bit different from the rules of the road, but one thing that doesn't change is the obligation to behave courteously and safely.

The path between Prince George's County and Alexandria is a multiuse trail. Automobiles are not one of the uses.

Cooper's plan of action for walking along roadways without sidewalks is correct. Pedestrians need to stay out of the travel lanes and should walk on the left side, where they can see the oncoming traffic. On trails, however, pedestrians are part of the traffic. They are entitled to the right side of the pathway.

Everyone on the path, whether walkers, runners or cyclists, should stay as far to the right as possible so that faster users can pass them on the left. The rules of the trail, which is managed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, say not only this but also note that users must be considerate of others traveling at different speeds. Trail users who stop along the way must move to the side of the path to avoid hindering other trail traffic. Cyclists must alert other trail users before passing.

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