Monday, February 15, 2010

The carpool lane

There are a lot of traffic laws/rules that I follow religiously: I always stop at stop signs, I always use my turn signals, and I always wear my seatbelt. But there is one law that confuses and frustrates me so much, that I intentionally break it with every opportunity that I have. And that law is the carpool lane.

In theory, the idea of the carpool lane is great: to reduce the number of cars on the road during the busiest times of day. But since the application of the law has little to do with this idea, I find no real reason (other than the fear of getting a ticket – I will address this point later) to obey this law.

I think we can agree that the odds that you can find someone that works the exact same hours as you and lives close enough to you to actually carpool are pretty slim. And even if you are in that situation, wouldn’t you just carpool anyways? Would you really need encouragement to do so? I would think that splitting gas, switching off who drives and having someone to talk to would be benefit enough. Being able to drive in the carpool lane is just a bonus… not something that would necessarily cause you to car pool when otherwise you wouldn’t. I used to carpool with my boss because of the convenience. We had a 45 minute commute with no car pool lane, but we did it because it made sense. So the fact that some people do carpool has very little to do with the car pool lane, since they would probably carpool regardless.

The letter of law on a carpool lane is that you must have 2 or more people. That’s it. Not 2 licensed drivers, not 2 people old enough to drive… just 2 people. So how exactly does someone with a toddler in a child seat help reduce the number of cars on the road? Exactly… it doesn’t. Also, how does someone driving a Prius alone help reduce the number of cars on the road? Well, you might argue that since hybrids get such better gas mileage, it’s less impact on the environment, and therefore, they should benefit from the carpool lane. Just keep in mind that hybrids actually get worse mileage when at full speed than when in stop and go traffic because the braking helps recharge the battery. At full speed the engine has to run more and more gas is used to keep the battery charged. So actually, a Prius would get better gas mileage if it stayed in stop and go traffic, than if it was always moving. Maybe hybrids should be banned from the carpool lane…

So what keeps people from ignoring driving solo in the car pool lane? Fines and… well, that’s it. Fines. I am actually lucky enough to carpool now, and since I live pretty close to work, we don’t have to take the highway. But before I took my current job, I drove solo in the carpool lane to and from work every day. Each day, I saved 30 to 40 minutes of my life. Multiply that over about 3 ½ years, and I saved roughly 437 hours, or 18 days of my life not sitting in traffic. I’ve told my wife that if I ever get caught, it will be well worth the extra days to pay the fine. Though I don’t see myself getting caught anytime soon. See, to be caught, you have to be extremely unlucky, or just not paying attention. The only way would be to get caught speeding, or to find yourself directly in front of, or behind a police officer (you probably won’t pass one, because they only drive in the carpool lane…solo…you know, to keep extra cars off the road).

So, in conclusion, thank you. Thank you to all the people that do obey the carpool lane. It makes it much easier for me to get where I’m going =).

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