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  • Waiting for a ride

Friday, July 23 Those Cheating Drivers


Friday again, and a light and fast commute. I’m in a very new, White Prius. It has all the extras. Riding in the front seat I feel like I’m co-piloting an airplane. The dashboard is dazzling with all sorts of messages and symbols – inside and outside temperature, a GPS map tracking our every move down the 80 freeway, a diagram of the car and the energy it’s using, and other buttons and switches that I don’t recognize. The driver is a young Asian-American girl, clad in a short black leather jacket and designer jeans. She thanks us for our dollars and says no more.

Because it’s such a light traffic day, we don’t see any solo drivers trying to use the carpool lane illegally, but on heavy traffic days, it is a fairly frequent occurrence. A few years ago the SF Chronicle did a count on cheaters. They counted 11% of the motorists cheating, and as many as 39% of drivers were cheaters on the Sterling Street Carpool Only entrance to the Bay Bridge. (Many of them slowing and looking around to make sure there were no CHP officers nearby). Over a 5-year period, the CHP issued an average of nearly 7,000 carpool ‘cheater’ citations a year on the four busiest carpool lanes: I-80 from the Bay Bridge to Hercules; I-680 in central Contra Costa county; 1-880 in Alameda county and Highway 101 in Marin and Sonoma counties. At $400 a ticket (and up), that’s an expensive ride.

There are stories about solo drivers using inflatable dummies in the passenger seats, dogs with coats and scarves in baby seats, and broomsticks with Styrofoam heads and wigs propped up in seats.

Many law-abiding drivers and carpoolers feel that there is not enough of a CHP presence to deter the cheaters; I rarely see any officers on my I-80 commute. When I do, it’s usually in the evening, but only a few times in the last year. Undoubtedly, cut-backs have trimmed their numbers.

The cheating infuriates a lot of people; 7 years ago a couple of web heads in San Jose got so upset about it they started a website – carpoolcheats.org (you can’t go there – it doesn’t exist anymore). These two guys took pictures of cheaters and published them on their website, along with pictures of their license plates. When they would spot a solo driver behind them in the carpool lane, they would pull into the next lane, then snap a shot of the lone driver as his car passed. They would then snap a shot of the license plate. The website was deluged – they were getting over 5,000 hits a day within a few weeks. Reluctantly they took the site down after they received a number of threatening letters and were even pursued and harrassed on the freeway. One enraged cheater chased them for several miles and hurled his ceramic coffee mug at their car. And the CHP told them they couldn’t use the photos to prosecute cheaters with anyway. “We need to witness the violation in person in order to issue a ticket,” CHP said.

One recent frustration of drivers since the July 1 tolls began has been the deluge of non-carpooling cars flooding the carpool lane minutes before the Bay Bridge converts to a regular lane at 10 a.m. weekday mornings. Apparently many of these cars hit their brakes at 9:58 and 9:59 a.m., waiting for the lane to convert, creating traffic jams and chaos and making the legit drivers crazy and angry.

The things we do out there on the freeway! Here’s the weekend. Enjoy. CG