How HOV Lanes Work and Why You Should Use Them

All across the country to deal with traffic, especially during rush hours, states have carpool lanes.

In Tennessee, since 1993, the state version is the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (aka HOV lane), seen on major highways into and out of cities.

“They are a tool to promote ridesharing to reduce congestion on urban interstates,” the Tennessee Department of Transportation says. “The central concept for HOV lanes is to move more people rather than more cars.”

They are marked by white diamonds, as the innermost lane of interstates, and have wider, broken lines to set them apart.

Legally, during HOV hours, each vehicle in the lane must have at least two people in it, though there are some exceptions.

HOV Operational Hours
Monday – Friday
7 a.m. to 9 a.m. inbound
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. outbound

In the Middle Tennessee area (Davidson, Rutherford, Wilson and Williamson Counties), there are 121 miles of HOV lanes.

If you don’t follow those rules or meet an exception, you can be fined up to $50.

Exceptions include motorcycles and hybrid vehicles with the Smart Pass sticker.

Smart Pass

In 2009, Tennessee began letting certain cars apply for exceptions to the two-person HOV lane rule. This was called the Smart Pass. It allows hybrid vehicles to drive in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes without satisfying the two-passenger minimum. Registered owners of qualifying hybrid vehicles can download an application to receive a small decal for their vehicle that allows them to drive in HOV lanes without additional passengers.

The state continues to extend the eligibility for Smart Pass to include more recent models of vehicles on the EPA’s list (click here to view the list). For example, Prius and other hybrids are also eligible for the pass. Similarly, new hybrids, such as the Ford C-Max, plug-in electric hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, and all electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, are eligible.

HOV Benefits

  • HOV lanes move more people in fewer vehicles, reducing the demand for new highways.
  • HOV lanes increase the efficiency of existing highways.
  • HOV lanes reduce the use of personal resources such as time and fuel.
  • HOV lanes benefit drivers of single-occupant vehicles by taking car-poolers out of general use lanes.

Related Reading: 5 Reasons You Should Carpool

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  1. Would somebody explain to me how allowing a single-occupant fuel-efficient car (electric or hybrid) in the HOV Lane helps the “more people, fewer cars” goal?

  2. I agree with Mike!
    Doing away with the HOV lanes (and all the money in signage, paint, enforcement) would be a good step in flowing traffic. Ticketing drivers going significantly slower than traffic in all but the right lane, or leaving huge gaps in front of them would also help flow traffic. Pull the HOV signs & replace with slower vehicles keep right/keep right except to pass.

  3. I’ve lived in multiple large cities throughout my life and have seen the huge, positive impact HOV lanes can have on traffic. At the time I lived there, Seattle was my favorite example. When properly used, even high traffic times can maintain a steady flow.

    The primary difference between cities where HOV lanes are effective and cities that experience low-marginal results seems to be how much drivers respect the law and the impact their decisions make on others. The more people respect the law and the system, the greater the impact It’s one traffic overall. Honestly, this isn’t even that complicated of a concept/system… (cause -> effect).

    Unfortunately, this system suffers the same Achilles heel that cripples many other systems: it falls apart when people don’t respect it. From what I can tell, it appears the roads of Nashville have a disproportionate amount of people who feel entitled to use the roads however they see fit regardless of the law or how it effects others. This ends up having a ripple effect that impacts traffic and those who witness the lanes being abused and think to themselves, “If those people don’t give a $#!÷, why should I?”

    If you’ve ever experienced how effective these lanes can be, you probably wouldn’t be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, you’d want the system to be respected so it can work properly and fine violators sufficiently enough to weed out the bad apples from spoiling the bunch.

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