Question: As a country guy, driving in the big city, I’m confused by the diamond lanes and the pay lanes and the assorted left lanes in the Seattle metro area. My wife and I travel this way and we wonder what the rules are for the different routes. Can we take our 5th wheel trailer on diamond tracks or expressways? Do recreational vehicles obey truck or car laws? How do I get a paid subscription and what are the costs?
Reply: While there is a set of traffic laws for the entire state, driving in Washington can be very diverse. If you live in a rural community, you will likely have to leave your county to find a HOV lane, and if you live in an urban area, you may never have encountered a tractor on the roadway. This week we will be helping the country people with lanes you will only encounter on urban roads, and next week we will be teaching city people how to drive in farmland.
Let’s start with the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, also known as diamond lanes or carpool lanes, as this is the most common dedicated lane you’re likely to come across. HOV lanes are reserved for vehicles with the number of occupants specified on the sign (usually two, and sometimes three), as well as buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and tow trucks responding to an incident. The law specifically includes recreational vehicles in the list of vehicles allowed in HOV lanes when the occupant requirement is met. Trucks over 10,000 pounds are not permitted in the HOV lane, regardless of the number of occupants.
We also have HOV lanes with a toll option for solo drivers. State Route 167 has high toll lanes (HOT), where carpoolers can use the lane for free while solo drivers with a Good To Go! Pass may pay a toll to use the lane. The I-405 has express toll lanes, which work the same as HOT lanes, but carpoolers need a Flex Pass to use the lane. Tolls for non-carpoolers vary depending on the volume of traffic.
And there are three toll roads in Washington (not counting the ferry system), all in the Seattle metro area. Routes are SR 520 Bridge (fares vary by time of day), Tacoma Narrows Bridge (flat fee charged for trips to Tacoma), and SR 99 Tunnel (fares vary by time of day ). Drivers save a few dollars if they have a Good To Go! pass instead of paying by mail. There are several options for Good To Go! past; you can find the details on the Washington State DOT website in their section on Good To Go!
As to whether recreational vehicles obey truck or car laws, it depends. For highway speed limits, you may need to follow the law for trucks. The law states that “the maximum speed limit for vehicles over ten thousand pounds gross weight and vehicles in combination … shall not exceed sixty miles per hour ….” The definition of “set of vehicles ”includes any motor vehicle and trailer, so if you are towing your RV or driving a sufficiently large RV, the 60 mph limit applies to you. You will also need to stay out of the left lane of the freeway when there are three or more lanes. (The carpool lane does not count as a left lane.)
While carpooling and HOT lanes are all about efficiency, familiarizing yourself with your route before you travel is an important part of situational awareness. Knowing what you might encounter cuts down on any surprises you might like on your birthday, but not so much while you’re driving.