How HOV Lanes Work and Why You Should Use Them


All across the country to deal with traffic, especially during rush hours, states have carpool lanes.

In Tennessee, since 1993, the state version is the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (aka HOV lane), seen on major highways into and out of cities.

“They are a tool to promote ridesharing to reduce congestion on urban interstates,” the Tennessee Department of Transportation says. “The central concept for HOV lanes is to move more people rather than more cars.”

They are marked by white diamonds, as the innermost lane of interstates, and have wider, broken lines to set them apart.

Legally, during HOV hours, each vehicle in the lane must have at least two people in it, though there are some exceptions.

HOV Operational Hours
Monday – Friday
7 a.m. to 9 a.m. inbound
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. outbound

In the Middle Tennessee area (Davidson, Rutherford, Wilson and Williamson Counties), there are 121 miles of HOV lanes.

If you don’t follow those rules or meet an exception, you can be fined up to $50.

Exceptions include motorcycles and hybrid vehicles with the Smart Pass sticker.

Smart Pass

In 2009, Tennessee began letting certain cars apply for exceptions to the two-person HOV lane rule. This was called the Smart Pass. It allows hybrid vehicles to drive in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes without satisfying the two-passenger minimum. Registered owners of qualifying hybrid vehicles can download an application to receive a small decal for their vehicle that allows them to drive in HOV lanes without additional passengers.

The state continues to extend the eligibility for Smart Pass to include more recent models of vehicles on the EPA’s list (click here to view the list). For example, Prius and other hybrids are also eligible for the pass. Similarly, new hybrids, such as the Ford C-Max, plug-in electric hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, and all electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, are eligible.

HOV Benefits

  • HOV lanes move more people in fewer vehicles, reducing the demand for new highways.
  • HOV lanes increase the efficiency of existing highways.
  • HOV lanes reduce the use of personal resources such as time and fuel.
  • HOV lanes benefit drivers of single-occupant vehicles by taking car-poolers out of general use lanes.

Related Reading: 5 Reasons You Should Carpool

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