Freeway signs don’t always get it right as to the cost for carpool lane violators

by in News

Q. Hi Honk: Traveling back from San Diego on the northbound 5 Freeway, I entered the carpool lane in San Clemente. I saw a sign saying, “Carpool Lane Violation Minimum Fine $401.” A few minutes later, I passed a sign saying “Carpool Lane Violation Minimum Fine $490,” and a few minutes later I passed a sign saying, “Carpool Lane Violation Minimum Fine $341.” Are the fines different depending on the section of Interstate 5? What’s the story?

– Mike VanVoorhis, Sunset Beach

A. The same violation apparently can carry different penalties, depending on the county, said Tino Olivera, a California Highway Patrol officer and spokesman out of the Santa Ana office.

That’s because of added fees.

In Orange County, the base fine for wrongly driving solo in a carpool lane is $100, according to the 2019 Uniform Bail and Penalty Schedules used by Superior Court. But with other fees and penalties, the final tab is $490.

Why would the signs cite different penalties, though, in the same county?

They could just be older signs with outdated numbers.

“Caltrans replaces (carpool) violation signs as frequently as possible,” David Matza, a Caltrans spokesman for Orange County, told Honk in an email. “Other maintenance work including pavement rehab often takes precedence, but when an opportunity arises, such as when a project is being worked on where outdated signs are located, Caltrans will replace them.”

In fairness to Caltrans, it isn’t just a matter of sending out an employee with a screwdriver and a new sign.

Several employees, maybe even accompanied by a CHP officer to make it as safe as possible, might need to be dispatched. And a lane might have to be closed, slowing us all down.

“Caltrans constantly monitors our sign inventory, and we are working on replacing HOV violation signs at various locations throughout Orange County,” Matza said.

Probably best for motorists not qualified to drive in a carpool lane to just stay out of it instead of doing a cost-benefit analysis based on the dollar figure on a freeway sign.

Q. Hello, Mr. Honk! I know there is a new law that requires car dealers to issue paper plates for new vehicles that have a unique ID number. A welcome change from people using paper dealership ads. But I still see a lot of the dealer paper “plates” instead of regular plates or the new paper ones. Is there a time limit to see these disappear? Can the vehicle owners be cited?

– Terri Sargeant, Orange

A. That time limit is gone and, yes, they can be cited.

Under the old law that expired Dec. 31, owners of new vehicles had 90 days to slap on permanent plates – so we are a good two months after the deadline for someone who bought a new ride on New Year’s Eve.

Now, virtually all vehicles are supposed to carry permanent plates or the temporary paper ones that carry a unique sequence so cops can quickly figure out who owns the car, truck or motorcycle.

Now, it is up to each officer who spies vehicles without proper plates to decide if he or she wants to pull over the driver.

Because the cop certainly can.

To ask Honk questions, reach him at honk@ocregister.com. He only answers those that are published. To see Honk online: ocregister.com/tag/honk.