Rules of the Road: What is the law on HOV lane changes?

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 23, 2014 

Question: Recently while traveling northbound in the middle lane of Interstate 5 near Seattle, I decided to change lanes to my left. Right at that moment a car traveling in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane decided to change lanes to the same inside lane, causing me to swerve back into the middle lane to avoid a collision. Note that there wasn't an off-ramp within several miles. Naturally that made me ponder who would have been at fault had our vehicles collided. When is it permissible to change lanes into or out of the HOV lane?

Answer: Generally speaking, the requirements for changing lanes into or out of the HOV lane are the same as any other lane change. It must be signaled and safe to do so.

There are a few areas where the access to/from the HOV lane is restricted. These are marked with signs and frequently double white lines. Examples would be I-5 northbound in the Lynnwood area where the HOV lane is restricted from accessing Interstate 405; the Fife to Federal Way area where you are prohibited from changing lanes for several stretches of I-5 both north- and southbound; and on Highway 167 between Auburn and Renton where the HOV lane has limited legal access points.

As far as fault, it would be the determination of the officer involved. It could be that both would receive a ticket for the "unsafe lane change" due to the collision.

Q: Very recently, while I was driving in the Sunset Square area, I saw a vehicle with its steering wheel on the right-hand side go past me. I had never seen a vehicle like this in Bellingham before. Is it legal to own and operate a vehicle with right-sided steering in Bellingham - or in the state of Washington?

A: Yes, it is legal to own and operate a vehicle with right-side steering in Bellingham. Most of the U.S. Postal Service delivery vehicles are set up as right-hand drive. For vehicles that are brought in to America from other countries, there are some legal requirements to go through to make sure the vehicle will comply with the U.S. safety standards.

ABOUT RULES OF THE ROAD

Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices.

Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who is now serving on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force.

For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to bellinghamherald.com/traffic.

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