Pregnancy Doesn't Count for Two in Car-Pool Lanes

Dear Street Smart:

My question is this: How far along in a pregnancy must a woman be before she can drive in a car-pool lane? Years ago I saw an article on a woman who drove on the 55 (Costa Mesa) freeway who got a ticket but won the case.

Please let me know about that.

Mindy Tran-Viet

Huntington Beach

Indeed, there was a case a few years back in Orange County involving a woman who beat a ticket by claiming her unborn child qualified as a separate passenger, giving her the requisite two people to drive in a commuter lane.

But that motorist appears to have been a bit lucky. Or she got a sympathetic judge. Or both.

Take the highly publicized case of Diane Correll, a pregnant woman snagged by the Highway Patrol in 1987 as she zipped alone down the car-pool lane on the Costa Mesa Freeway. Correll raised the same argument about her unborn child representing a passenger. But the judge she drew didn't buy it, and Correll had to pay her fine.

In fact, the law is perfectly clear, according to car-pool lane experts at Caltrans. Unborn babies just don't pass muster when it comes to commuter lanes.

If a fetus did indeed qualify as passenger, mother and unborn child would be violating several other laws, noted Joe El-Harake, commuter lanes coordinator for Caltrans in Orange County.

For starters, it's illegal for two people to be behind the steering wheel at once, he said. And the law also forbids two people from using the same seat belt. You get the picture.

Once a child is born, however, there are no age limits applied to car-pooling in Orange County, El-Harake said. So mothers with infants can strap 'em in and head for the commuter lane.

Dear Street Smart:

On the eastbound 22 (the Garden Grove Freeway) there are two lanes that break off the freeway and head to the northbound 57 (the Orange Freeway) and the northbound 5 (Santa Ana Freeway).

These two transition lanes make a big looping curve on an overpass, then narrow down into one lane before linking with two other lanes exiting the westbound 22. After a couple hundred feet, the lanes split up again, sending the intermingled traffic off onto the northbound 57 and the northbound 5.

It doesn't seem to make any sense to create that big bottleneck, which backs up traffic onto the eastbound 22. In effect it has reduced the size of the 22 because

of all the traffic that gets backed up. And there seems to be nothing in that area but ice plant keeping Caltrans from adding a lane to help the situation.

James Hyek

Fountain Valley

You are a perceptive motorist. That bottleneck is among the most pressing problems on the agenda of state transportation planners in Orange County. The eastbound transition lanes off the Garden Grove Freeway carry 2,900 cars at peak hours, delivering a huge load of traffic to that bottleneck.

Fortunately, some relief is in sight. The state plans to create a new lane by simply restriping the existing pavement to help eliminate the bottleneck.

Of course, many cars will still have to jockey through traffic to head toward the proper freeway entrance. But the state hopes to ease that situation eventually with a $10-million project planned for 1994-95 that would include an improved overpass off the eastbound Garden Grove Freeway.

Dear Street Smart:

My vote for the biggest highway headache is the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5). It is one of the oldest freeways in the Southern California system. It is also one of the heaviest traveled.

I-5 is the major north-south artery for travel from San Francisco to San Diego--with truck traffic at a staggering volume.

The area between the 605 (San Gabriel River) freeway to the north and the 405 (San Diego) freeway to the south--about 25 miles--has to be the worst! Generally, there are three narrow lanes to accommodate a record number of cars and trucks, with no shoulders through much of that area for emergencies.

You can just about count on stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic at any time of the night and day from where the I-5 crosses the 22 freeway down to the 55 freeway. I call this stretch "the slot" because much of the I-5 is in a concrete ditch, with narrow bridges and lanes, frequent accidents, no shoulders for emergencies and no immediate solution in sight.

I avoid the slot like the plague, usually taking surface streets instead.

Robert R. Reed

Santa Ana

Yes, the Santa Ana Freeway is a bit of a motoring anachronism. It was built long before planners had any concept of just how many motorists would flood the county's roads. Since then, it has seen virtually no improvements.

Caltrans has an ambitious plan to double the number of lanes on the freeway, with work already under way south of the Costa Mesa Freeway. But any motorist with two good eyes knows the most troubling stretch of the I-5 is "the slot" north of the 55 freeway.

With the defeat early this month of Measure M, the multibillion-dollar transportation financing package for Orange County, prospects appear dim that any work to widen the I-5 in the slot will begin soon.

A state gas tax increase on the ballot next June could provide money to start the widening work in the next few years. If the gas tax fails, some experts say, motorists shouldn't expect any improvements on the Santa Ana Freeway until after the turn of the century.

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