Can Motorcycles Ride in the Carpool Lane in Colorado?

Nothing makes me happier than when I get a question from someone who describes himself as a ‘frequent reader’ of my blog or magazine articles. It’s always nice to know that I’m sharing information that people use! The gentleman was a Denver motorcycle rider, and his questions were: “Can motorcycles ride in the carpool lane in Colorado? What are the rules for motorcycles in Colorado’s HOV lanes?”

HOV lanes can be very dangerous for motorcyclists.

That is a very good question, not only because it’s important to know the rules, but also because carpool lanes – commonly known as HOV lanes – can be very dangerous for motorcyclists if they’re not hyper-aware of their surroundings. So, I’m going to cover both topics here:

  1. Rules for motorcyclists in Colorado’s carpool lanes, including HOV lanes and Express Lanes (with some bonus material that describes where those lanes are and how they’re different).
  2. Situational awareness for motorcycles in carpool lanes.

Rules for Motorcyclists in Colorado’s Carpool Lanes

First, let’s define the difference between the difference carpool lanes – HOV lanes and Express Lanes – in Colorado:

  • High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Express Lanes can be found all over Colorado. They are generally free for anyone to use, as long as there are three people in the vehicle. Yes, I said three! On January 1, 2017, Colorado’s HOV lanes officially switched from HOV 2 (driver, plus one passenger) to HOV 3 (driver, plus two passengers).
  • Express Lanes are generally built in addition to the existing highway infrastructure, and people are charged a toll for using them. The most common of these are E-470, the Northwest Parkway and the I-70 Mountain Express Lane.

Now, what are the rules for motorcyclists on these carpool lanes? Good news! According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) website, motorcyclists can now use the HOV Express Lanes for free. So, for example, motorcycle riders can use the HOV Express Lanes on US 36, Central I-25 and North I-25 for free. However, there are some HOV Express Lanes and toll roads that don’t let anybody travel for free (whether or not they have a high occupancy). For those roads, everyone pays, including motorcyclists. (Details listed below.)

To make this a bit simpler, here is the information from the CDOT website on carpool lanes:

The High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) and CDOT created new procedures for motorcyclists who use HOV Express Lanes—which include US 36 Express Lanes, Central I-25 Express Lanes and North I-25 Express Lanes. These new procedures do not impact the I-70 Mountain Express Lane, Northwest Parkway or E-470.

  • Motorcycles are no longer required to have a pass to use CDOT’s HOV Express Lanes for free.
  • Toll roads or Express Lanes that do not allow HOV vehicles for free (E-470, Northwest Parkway, I-70 Mountain Express Lane) still require a pre-paid toll balance (ExpressToll account) and pass to avoid higher license plate toll charges.
  • Any account questions should be directed to the ExpressToll Service Center at 303-537-3470, or customerservice@expresstoll.com.

Situational Awareness for Motorcycles in Colorado’s Carpool Lanes

Now that you know which HOV lanes and Express Lanes are free for motorcyclists, use them when you can, without hesitation! But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t include a warning in this article about the hazards to motorcyclists in carpool lanes.

Let me illustrate with a personal experience:

One day, I was driving home from a court hearing in Boulder. I was on I-36 and, because I didn’t have a pass or transponder, I was in the regular flow of traffic to the right. During that long, tedious drive, I witnessed three different accidents! People speed up like crazy when they see an opening and then they jam on their brakes when everything slows down. And they hit each other. Obviously. The scariest part, though, was the fact that some people, in order to avoid hitting the car in front of them, swerved directly into the carpool lane without looking to see if there were oncoming cars or motorcycles.

Hitting a nearly-stopped car head-on could cause catastrophic injuries or death for a motorcyclist.

Can you imagine the devastating injuries this could cause a motorcyclist enjoying normal speeds in the carpool lane? Hitting a nearly-stopped car head-on could cause catastrophic injuries or death for a motorcyclist. My advice is that you ride in the far left portion of the carpool lane to avoid cars swerving into the lane from the right.

Another big issue that I see with carpool lanes is that the people who use them tend to speed, and they get impatient with drivers who go the speed limit. While this can be stressful if you’re the driver of a car going the speed limit with some speed demon behind you, it can be downright dangerous for a motorcyclist. If you see one of these drivers zooming up behind you, I recommend that you check the right-hand lane to determine if you can get out of his way. Once he’s passed, return to the carpool lane safely.

The key to your safety in a carpool lane is to keep your situational awareness on high alert. People on your right may be growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of their lanes and may cause accidents. Drivers behind you might want to push you faster than you should go.

Stay alert.

I Enjoy Reader Questions

Finally, please send me your questions! My goal is to share information in my blogs and magazine articles that helps people stay safe, save money and protect themselves. I’d love to hear from you. Scott@osullivan-law-firm.com, 303-388-5304.


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