The insane traffic congestion we deal with in Southern California can sometimes be alleviated, by use of HOV Lanes and or Express Lanes.

But how to legally get in and out of them as well as use them can definitely be tricky.  Especially since the laws change from time to time.  Like they will later this year as well as at the beginning of next year.

We get the scoop from California Highway Patrol Motorcycle Officer Darren Wybenga in this iDriveSoCal Podcast.  Listen closely – you might not only save yourself a ticket but also learn how to use the express lanes for free!


Recorded May 18, 2018 in Torrance, CA

Darren Wybenga: Currently, there’s three different colored stickers which are applicable for low emission vehicles that have been designated to use the HOV lane or the express lane. In the express lanes, every vehicle is required to have a transponder. You could, in theory, have a free trip if you had your transponder set properly, it would save you money.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here, and today I am out at the south LA office of the California Highway Patrol yet again with our friend, motorcycle officer Darren Wybenga, California Highway Patrolman, thank you for joining us again.

Darren Wybenga: My pleasure.

Tom Smith: Thank you for doing what you do keeping us safe out there on the highways.

Darren Wybenga: You’re very welcome.

Tom Smith: Today’s topic is going to be what I think confuses a lot of people, definitely it’s confused me, and that is the express lane, HOV lane, getting in and out of them, the transponders, the stickers and what not. Officer Wybenga is going to give us the lay of the land on all this. Now Officer Wybenga, the HOV lanes have been around for a long time, right?

Darren Wybenga: Probably about 20 years.

Tom Smith: Okay, and then the express lanes are relatively new.

Darren Wybenga: Yes, about five years.

Tom Smith: About five years, okay. Basically what happened was, it’s the 110 and the 10, right?

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: In areas of the 110 and the 10 in LA County, the, what was HOV lane became express lane.

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: And that was to govern the traffic in those lanes as well as raise revenue, generally speaking.

Darren Wybenga: Generally speaking, and to give folks another option if they’re willing to pay for it to hopefully expedite their travels.

Tom Smith: Okay. Now the first thing to cover is getting in and out of the HOV and express lanes. I think I’m not alone in that my experience driving … Say I’m in the HOV or express lane, I’m driving, I see to my right there’s a white line and then there’s a double yellow, and that, to me, means I can cross and get out of the express/HOV lane that I’m in because it’s the white. I can get out whenever I feel like but then people can’t get in because of that double yellow. However, that’s not the case is it?

Darren Wybenga: It is not. The only time you can enter or exit legally is where the lines turn to broken white, like the other lanes of traffic. You’re no longer seeing solid lines. If there’s two solid lines or four solid lines, if those lines are solid you can’t cross in or out. Typically, they try to have an opening every two miles or so but there’s no real guarantee.

Tom Smith: Does that change in Orange County, or San Bernardino County, or Riverside County?

Darren Wybenga: Those rules are the same everywhere. The line setup may be different in certain locations or certain counties. But solid white, two solid white or more, or two solid yellow or more work interchangeably, and they’re gonna always be illegal to cross.  I think the biggest misconception was if there’s a white, single white line inside two solid lines-

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: … that it kind of cancels those lines out, and makes it okay for the driver to exit-

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: … to reach their destination. But you certainly can’t cross into.

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: That’s not the case. That solid, that single white line on the inside does not cancel out the effect of those solid lines. It’s just an additional guideline that’s there to guide drivers, and doesn’t void any other line setup.

Tom Smith: And I’m not alone in this, right? I mean, you-

Darren Wybenga: No. It’s a common excuse that I get. People have heard from someone or read somewhere that a single white line on the inside kind of overrides the other lines that are in place.

Tom Smith: You make that sound like there’s some situations where you sense someone really knows better, but they’re just, that’s the story they’re telling you, the sob story to get out of a ticket maybe.

Darren Wybenga: Yeah. Could be like that urban legend that you hear.

Tom Smith: Okay. If there’s a white border around the stop sign, that makes the stop sign optional.

Darren Wybenga: Right. Exactly.

Tom Smith: Right. Okay. That’s not the case, by the way folks.

Darren Wybenga: Not at all.

Tom Smith: Now, the HOV lane itself, high occupancy vehicle, we have the sticker factor. And then we also have the express lanes. We have the transponder factor. And then, depending on the passenger configuration of your car, meaning how many people that you have in your car, both the transponder and the sticker can come into play.

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: Let’s start with the stickers.

Darren Wybenga: So currently, there’s three different colored stickers which are applicable for low emission vehicles that have been designated to use the HOV lane or the express lane. The most current one being issued is the red sticker. There’s also a white sticker and a green sticker. The white and green stickers are still current until January of 2019.

Tom Smith: So just because I have a white or green sticker currently, my vehicle might not qualify for that red sticker.

Darren Wybenga: Right. Only if you were issues the white or green sticker in the years 2017 or 2018. So the newer vehicles with the lower emissions are the only ones that are gonna be able to continue in the program.

Tom Smith: And now, if I’m not already in the sticker game, meaning I don’t have a vehicle that qualifies, or I haven’t applied for it or what not. But I’m interested in getting into it. Does it cost me money to initially get the sticker, to apply for it.

Darren Wybenga: To get the stickers initially, you have to apply with the DMV, and if your vehicle is on the list, they’ll issue the stickers. It’s a one time fee of $22.

Tom Smith: And then, how often, or is it so new that we’re still learning how often the stickers are updated?

Darren Wybenga: Well the last set of stickers that was discontinued was in 2011.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Darren Wybenga: And that was the yellow stickers.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Darren Wybenga: So since 2011, so going on seven years now, we’ve been operating under the white, and then green stickers, and now the red stickers are coming into play. So it’s a fairly long period of time that they allow a certain set of stickers to continue in the program.

Tom Smith: So the only stickers that are no longer good are the yellow stickers.

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: Do you encounter a lot of violators out there using the yellow stickers thinking that they’re good to be in the HOV lane?

Darren Wybenga: Not frequently. It seems as though the people I do encounter is that situation are people who have bought the car used.

Tom Smith: Ah.

Darren Wybenga: And were misinformed by the seller that they could use it.

Tom Smith: Sure.

Darren Wybenga: And they generally are the ones that are fairly alarmed when I stop them and-

Tom Smith: Yeah. They just spent 30% more for that car, thinking that sticker was valid. Okay, and is that a big, is that an expensive ticket?

Darren Wybenga: It’s an expensive ticket.

Tom Smith: How much is that?

Darren Wybenga: Currently, after all the fees and assessments, it’s $490. There is a separate section if you don’t have the proper stickering on your designated vehicle.

‘Cause some people, just for cosmetic purposes don’t like the sticker on their high end low emission vehicle.

Tom Smith: Oh, the new sticker color doesn’t match.

Darren Wybenga: So they just will keep them in their glove box. And then I’ll stop the vehicle knowing that it meets the requirements.

Inquiring about where the stickers are. And they said they don’t wanna put the ugly stickers on their nice vehicle, so they leave them in the glove box. So they can be cited. That’s a totally different section.

Tom Smith: My $120,000 Tesla that has insanity mode, I didn’t wanna put the sticker on the bumper.

Darren Wybenga: Exactly.

Tom Smith: Okay, so that’s stickers. And again, that is, if you’re in the sticker game, you need to be red by January 1st 2019 or deal with the consequences, right?

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: How do the stickers, transponders, and express lanes all work together?

Darren Wybenga: So in the express lanes that we’re talking about, on the 110 freeway and the 10 freeways, every vehicle in those lanes is required to have a transponder.

Tom Smith: But now, before you go any further, it’s the same for any express lane throughout the state.

Darren Wybenga: I believe the ones in Orange County, you’re just required to register your vehicles plates under your actual account, and that would qualify. But you’re going to pay the maximum toll, meaning that if you had three occupants in your vehicle, and you could, in theory, have a free trip if you had your transponder set properly in your vehicle, it would save you money. Tom Smith: So our transponders that we receive here in LA County all have one, two, or three setting. The one, obviously is you’re paying for the express lane. If you have multiple people in the vehicle, then you set it to two or three, and the express lane is free at that point in time. But the other thing that I asked, Officer Wybenga about is hey, well why, there’s no difference between two and three currently.

Darren Wybenga: There’s no difference between two and three.

Tom Smith: So down the online, we may see some different fees in all our tolls depending on if we’re set to two or three. But right now, it doesn’t matter. You’re either on one or two. And just two suffices, you’re not paying the toll.

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: Okay. But then if you’re an Orange County driver, and you get their transponder, does their transponder not have that option to flip from one, two, three?

Darren Wybenga: The new ones do.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Darren Wybenga: And if you have a transponder that doesn’t have settings on it, you can get it replaced and get a new updated transponder-

Tom Smith: Gotcha. Okay. Okay.

Darren Wybenga: Which would be in your best interest to do.

Tom Smith: So there you go folks. If your transponder does not have settings, definitely get it replaced, because you can be saving yourself some bucks.

Tom Smith: All right, so I think I interrupted a few minutes ago here, on the transponder as it pertains to stickers in the express lanes.

Darren Wybenga: So currently, if you have one of the stickers we talked about, a white, green, or red sticker-

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: And you’re in the express lane as a member with a transponder, you are permitted to set that transponder on two or three, and have a toll free trip. That’s been the standard since the express lanes in LA County started, and that is still currently the standard.

Tom Smith: So let me get this straight. I’m driving by myself, but I have a sticker for high occupancy.

Darren Wybenga: For low emissions.

Tom Smith: Low emissions, which allows me to get into the high occupancy. Sorry.

Darren Wybenga: Right. Exactly.

Tom Smith: But I’m driving by myself, but I can do the express lane, and while I’m in the express lane, I can just flip my transponder to a two or three setting because I have the sticker.

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: So because I have the sticker, I’m in the express lane all the time, even when I’m by myself, for free. But I still have to have the transponder.

Darren Wybenga: Right.

Tom Smith: Otherwise, officer Wybenga is gonna com pulling up behind you in her motorcycle and paying a visit, right?

Darren Wybenga: Right.

Tom Smith: It seemed more confusing when I was talking to you about it and getting the lay of the land. But now that we got the lay of the land, it seems very clear cut.

Darren Wybenga: Come November or December. As of right now, there are plans to change that. And whether or not you have a sticker, and you’re by yourself, you’re gonna be required to pay a toll.

Tom Smith: Oh

Darren Wybenga: You will no longer be given a free pass, unless you have multiple occupants in your vehicle and you can set it on two or three. But if you’re a single occupant with a stickered vehicle for low emissions, you will no longer be given a free pass to set that on tow or three. You’ll have to set it on one, as it applies to you at that time.

Tom Smith: Okay. So that brilliant thing that I just had an aha moment about, come November December, changes, because then they’re gonna be treated like everybody else if you have the sticker and you are in the express lane. But it’s still gonna be discounted through, right?

Darren Wybenga: Right.

Tom Smith: You have a sticker, and you’re in the express lane. You are then having to follow the rules as everyone else, have your transponder set to one, two, or three, depending on the number of people you have in your vehicle. But you’re not paying the full freight, meaning the entire toll that anybody else is paying because you had that sticker.

Darren Wybenga: Exactly. It only applies to that crowd of people who are willing, bought a vehicle that qualifies, and they wanna drive the express lanes by themselves, and they’re willing to ah …

Tom Smith: Okay. So it’s only when I’m in the car by my … I got you. Only when I’m in the car by myself that it really is a factor.

Darren Wybenga: Right.

Tom Smith: Because it’s free for everybody when you’re not driving alone-

Darren Wybenga: Exactly.

Tom Smith: All right. Fantastic. Officer Darren Wybenga, Motorcycle Officer, CHP Motorcycle Officer Darren Wybenga. Thank you so much for joining, as always, and also as always, thank you for doing what you do and keeping us safe out there on the highways. For iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith. Thank you for listening.