Back-Seat Driver

How fast should you drive in the carpool lane? CHP weighs in

Transit moves on the Interstate 405.
Transit moves on the Interstate 405. AP

The speed limit on most California freeways is 65, but plenty of drivers in the fast lane go 75 mph. They’ve learned they generally can go that fast without being ticketed. (Watch out, though, CHP sometimes does speed limit enforcement blitzes.)

That prompts a question from carpool commuter Celia McAdam, who uses the 10 new miles of carpool lanes on Interstate 80 in north Sacramento:

How fast should you drive in the carpool lane during commute hours? Put another way, is that lane considered the “fast” lane, or is it really an extra, special-purpose lane next to the fast lane?

McAdam generally drives 65 in the carpool lane. She feels it is unsafe to go faster when the lane to her right is bottled up, because slower cars can dart out of that lane into hers. “It creates a sometimes frightening juxtaposition when you’ve got a tailgater.”

CHP spokesman Chad Hertzell says McAdam is doing it right. The carpool lane should not be considered a fast lane during commute hours when the lane next to it is bogged down. “During commute hours, it wouldn’t be safe to go faster than 65 in the carpool lane,” Hertzell said. “We’ve seen accidents with people in the carpool lane going too fast.”

Carpool enforcement

We often hear complaints about solo drivers using the carpool lanes during commute hours. The question many ask: Does the CHP enforce this at all?

CHP’s Hertzell says yes. The typical procedure is for a CHP officer to drive in the lane next to the carpool lane, looking out the side view mirror for approaching cars, and easing back from the car ahead to allow space to accelerate and jump out behind solo drivers.

But, frankly, CHP puts higher priority during commute hours on clearing crashes off the freeway. One reason you may not see CHP cars around is that they use their loudspeaker to order drivers in minor crashes to fully exit the freeway, not just pull to the shoulder.

Party parking

Virginia Kidd lives in a midtown Sacramento neighborhood where only residents are allowed to park for more than two hours on the street. That rule, recently extended to 10 p.m., protects residents from being overrun at night by people parking for downtown Golden 1 Center games and concerts.

But that “protection” is a pain too. Kidd said she considered hosting an evening Christmas party, but to ensure her guests don’t get parking tickets, she would have to have them send her their vehicle license number, make, model and color of their cars, for her to submit to the city for temporary parking permits.

Recognizing that’s a major hassle, city officials are allowing residents in permit parking areas to request a blanket OK for a larger party without collecting license numbers. If you contact the city at least 48 hours beforehand, and explain the circumstances, the city likely will tell parking enforcement officers to steer clear of the couple of blocks around your place that night.

Some people say they wonder if neighborhoods really need protections up to 10 p.m. But city officials say they want to see how things settle out in the new arena era before deciding on any major parking rules readjustments.