SUDDENLY ALL the commuting mannequins are conspicuously absent from their regular "HOV-3" rush-hour car pools in Virginia. They pretty much vanished shortly after a little police surprise last Monday: a crackdown on every motorist who didn't have at least two other real people along for the ride. That's the law, but it's not always the case along certain stretches of I-66; and police have decided to sock it to those who don't travel in good company each way. There were nearly 450 drivers caught on the first day of stricter enforcement. They received tickets that could carry $35 fines and three points toward suspension of a driver's license (18 points in 12 months can do it).

Too tough? Not at all. That, as they say about this stretch of highway, is how it goes. Originally we were strong critics of "HOV-4" ("High Occupancy Vehicle" with at least 4 people) and argued that "3" was more realistic. That's still our stand.

Will HOV-3 work? Yes, if state and county authorities commit 23 troopers and officers to the project every weekday morning and evening, as they have been doing. Is that likely? We'll see. With the exception of seasonal crackdowns on drunk drivers, few officials around the region have been willing to deploy that many authorities for long for any serious crackdown on other traffic scofflaws -- such as the potential killers who run red lights every day. Still, any time police move to enforce the laws and make traffic safer and more efficient, theyre on the right track.