Pet Peeves? Car-Pool Freeloads Lead List

Jan Hofmann is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Serves me right, I suppose, for asking.

Life on Wheels readers have listed their pet peeves about driving in the county--and I am one of them.

It started with my offhand revelation last month that once, on a desperate deadline, I brought my 10-year-old daughter along to the office so that I could use the car-pool lane on the Costa Mesa Freeway. That confession appeared the same day we began soliciting comments from readers, and for John Horger of Anaheim, "it was just too good to pass up."

He wrote: "I consider myself an expert of sorts on Orange County freeways for the following reasons: I'm almost a native . . . having lived in Orange County since 1956, when I was 3, so I've seen the county grow to ridiculous proportions, and in just the past 8 1/2 years, I've driven more than 325,000 miles, all within a 100-mile radius of Costa Mesa."

Horger said the car-pool lane is one of his biggest gripes: "It is abused beyond belief! People cross the double yellow lines all the time; single-passenger vehicles cruise in the lane at all hours of the day, and my personal favorite, the technically legal abusers such as your columnist Jan Hofmann, who skirt the law by hauling kids around to comply with the two-or-more-per-vehicle law.

"The object of the law is to 'reward' people who lessen the amount of cars on the freeway. People who haul kids around with them, or pregnant women who beat tickets in court by saying that there are two people in the vehicle, should be permanently banned from the freeway."

Horger suggested that "the law should be rewritten to state that both or all passengers must possess valid driver's licenses, or otherwise these cheaters are cheating everyone stuck in the other three lanes of the freeway."

But even that wouldn't guarantee that the vehicle contained a bona fide car pool, now would it? Better amend that to require that those licensed drivers carry notarized affidavits to the effect that they would all be traveling in that direction at that particular time anyway.

Then there is the enforcement problem. A California Highway Patrol officer would have to have a pretty sharp eye to check the expiration dates on not one but two or more driver's licenses through a car window at 55 m.p.h.

Horger thought of that too. "If the CHP can't enforce the law as it is, or as I suggest it should be," he said, "then the only fair solution is to open up the lane to everyone."

OK, OK, consider me chastised. In my defense, let me point out that I wasn't breaking, or even bending, the law. But I do understand that while my daughter and I were indeed two people in one vehicle, we were hardly a car pool. A car pool is in fact defined as three or more people on some other roadways around the state, which presents a mother with a bit more of a challenge: rounding up more than one youngster.

So I will let you, fellow drivers, decide. If you agree that I should stay out of the car-pool lane unless I am actually car-pooling in the strictest sense, I will abide by your decision--as long as you promise to do the same.

Betty O'Donnell, who lives in Leisure World at Laguna Hills, also complained about car-pool lanes. But instead of eliminating them, she suggested expanding the concept:

"There are at least two freeway ramps in the area that have lanes for more than one person in a car; all too frequently one sees this improperly used by a single person. On the freeways with lanes for car pools, we 'singles' are sitting there watching families, daters, car-poolers fly by. Doesn't seem fair.

"My suggestion is that the freeways be widened to include lanes for all classifications: school/college drivers, the dangerous 20s, the yuppies, the slowing-down 50s, and last but not least, senior citizens. No lane changes, no speeding up to beat someone out.

"Even ramps for different groups would be interesting. Leisure Worlders funneled into their area; college kids deposited in theirs, and workers into the industrial areas. . . . Would take some money, but developers have money to spare."

Truckers, too, should have a lane of their own, O'Donnell proposed: "Somewhere out in the hinterland, if possible. I hate their aggressive driving.

"We could all sail along in our own lanes then and be happy ever after listening to our self-help tapes, ocean music, whatever. How to exit? I leave that to some as-yet-nonexistent brilliant person to solve. So far, it has all just been bad planning."

Martine Micozzi of Anaheim wrote to suggest that Ed McClean, the Mission Viejo real estate salesman featured in a Life on Wheels column on folks who don't mind traffic, "could provide a valuable service to all commuters by taking some passengers with him. This would remove the overstressed and out-of-control commuters who drive like maniacs and arrive at work a bundle of nerves. Reducing traffic and air pollution are also additional benefits.

"At 36,000 commuting miles per year, Mr. McClean probably needs to purchase a new car every four years. If he drove a van pool, he would eliminate his commuting costs and reduce the wear and tear on his personal vehicle. He might also qualify for a 20% reduction of his automobile insurance, since he would use his personal car for pleasure use only.

"In the wake of the Air Quality Management District's Regulation 15, which requires employers of 100 or more to reduce the number of people who drive alone to work, Mr. McClean should not have been depicted in a favorable light."

As a real estate salesman, McClean often does have passengers in his car, as he chauffeurs potential buyers to see various houses for sale in the area.

But a van pool? Hey, with the incredible demand for houses in Orange County lately, that might not be such a bad idea. Just load up all the house-hunters in a bus, herd them through the various places for sale and pass out pencils and paper so they can jot down their bids.

Mark Lord didn't say where his permanent home is, but he wrote from Santa Ana to offer an outsider's view: "I have been working and living among you for nine weeks and have experienced the joys of driving here. Fortunately this is a temporary assignment; I would never consider living here because, as my co-workers say, 'You live your life around the traffic.'

"Your roads are in great physical shape, with many features I would like to see back home. But in trying to design in features to make everybody happy, no one is happy. Specifically, you cannot use non-freeway roads to get from here to there because there are too many traffic lights and no one seems to know how to time them. . . . It is ridiculous to be on an 8-lane road, your light turns green, and you can see that the next signal will be against you. You have thousands of in-road traffic-demand devices. The problem is that they let out the one guy (turning left) while stopping the 20 that are approaching the intersection."

Back to John Horger, who has another complaint. "My other big gripe is looky loos," he wrote. "Traffic isn't slow enough normally, it appears, because people insist on slowing down to a crawl to look at the most mundane, everyday occurrences--people changing flat tires, cops writing tickets, brush fires, shoulder construction (Caltrans coneheads), overheated cars, guys 'getting rid of beer' in the bushes--anything, any reason to slam on the brakes.

"And heaven forbid that there should be a fender-bender (on either side of the freeway; it doesn't matter) because that will undoubtedly back things up for miles.

"Are people that bored, or that stupid? I'm afraid that after seeing why these people slow down, I'd have to say that it's the latter.

Your Red Car Matches Your Eye . . .

What kind of car (or truck) do you drive? Why? What do you think it says about you? Tell us all the details--make, model, color, year, special features. Give us your own theory about how your vehicle expresses your personality. Then we will check with the experts and see what they think.

But Officer, I . . .

Have you ever talked your way out of a traffic ticket? What works? What doesn't? Does it matter whether you are male or female? Tell us about your experiences, and then we will check with some officers to find out how they feel about drivers who try to do a number on them.

Were You Seeing Double That Day?

From pregnant women to people driving hearses to brazen folks without even a hint of a passenger, many solo drivers have sneaked over into the car-pool lane to get somewhere in a hurry. If you are a cheater, tell us your side of the story. Do you think the rules don't apply to you? Does it bother you that you infuriate other drivers? How often do you get caught? And if you don't, how do you avoid it?

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