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A HOV lane in Toronto. (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)
A HOV lane in Toronto. (Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)

Drive, She Said

Life in the HOV lane Add to ...

High occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are a delight, in theory: those doing their bit to cut down on congestion get a pat on the back. In theory.

In practice, the lane becomes home to four types of drivers who try to avoid each other at all costs on the rest of the highway.

King of the Road

I paid for it, and I’m gonna use it. Or, as I call this driver, Dad. There can be not a single car on the rest of the road, but this driver – with passenger – will swing into the HOV lane, because he can. My son does this, too, so it may be a genetic or gender thing.

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It’s not remarkable in any way, but it still makes me wonder about the need to assert ownership when there is no payoff. This driver is merely amusing unless there is heavy traffic, and he or she is determined to sit in the HOV lane at a speed that would be perfectly suited for the far right lane. Or a turtle race.

Ricky Racer

I’ll admit they’ve made it psychologically difficult for some drivers. If the left lane is the passing lane, then the even more left lane must be the even more passing lane. The HOV lane is governed under the same laws as the rest of the road, but something magical happens to some drivers when they cross that golden divide.

They treat the rest of the highway like pit lane, and seem to forget they might actually have more space to manoeuvre where they have access to three lanes. Screaming along in the HOV lane until they put their grill repeatedly up the arse of car after car having the audacity to drive on their racetrack makes them look like bad drivers, bad racers and, well, stupid.

The Griswolds

After buying out Canadian Tire’s stock of tie-downs, they hit the road with the entire contents of their house strapped to the roof of their car and trailer.

You know there have to be passengers in there somewhere; you don’t bring two coolers, a kayak, a dog and four floaty toys unless you mean family business. The Griswolds are, of course, entitled to use the HOV lane. It would just be nice if they used it at more than 70 per cent of the speed limit.

The Commuter

Most regular commuters get it. There is choreography to repeating the same journey, day in and day out. When HOV lanes are built in heavily congested corridors, the regulars adapt quickly and seamlessly. Maybe it’s the common goal – get to work on time – but hard-core commuters are usually more predictable than any of the other HOV lane users.

Unfortunately, HOV lanes can be the Venus fly traps of the vehicle world.

Clearly marked, access is limited to ensure all traffic flows in a safe manner. This means you can only enter and exit the lanes in certain spots. A striped buffer zone pretends to be a wall that separates those using the lanes from those sitting and cursing in snarled traffic beside them.

If you’ve entered the HOV lanes in rush hour (which, in some cities, is 23 hours a day) you’re probably never getting out. In heavy traffic, you have to plan your escape to make your exit. While all the other vehicles should be glad you lessened the load in their lane and let you merge gracefully to leave the highway, instead it usually becomes a teachable moment for them as they decide the best way to thank you for car pooling is to stuff you and make you miss your exit.

Those drivers who are consistently surprised to find themselves at their exit (even if they’ve taken the same route every day for 23 years) are even worse in HOV lanes, which then necessitates them cutting across even more aisles. These are the same people who are always surprised they have to pay for things at the store and finally start searching for their wallet at the very end of the transaction.

Who can use the lanes? In Ontario, cars, commercial trucks less than 6.5 metres, minivans, motorcycles, taxis and limos with two people or more. Plug-in hybrid electrics or battery electrics (with a green licence plate) can use them with just the driver.

Who can’t use them? Vehicles with just a single occupant, even if she’s pregnant. Cars whose passenger is a mannequin, a scarecrow, a blow-up sex doll or a skeleton. Yes, they’ve all been tried. There have been questions in some parts about whether a corpse in a hearse is a passenger or cargo.

I’m waiting for Sybil to make her case.


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