Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Decades Old Traffic Control, No Driving in Carpool Lanes w/Trailers, Right Lane Must Exit Signs, FasTrak + MORE

March 31, 2014 14:00 pm · 44 comments

Traffic Jammin’ with Janis Mara – Every Monday at 2pm on

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, all! This column is for everyone who negotiates the highways and public transit of the Bay Area. It runs every Monday at 2pm and answers your commuting and transportation questions.

Email your questions to

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Greetings, beloved Claycordians! Whole lotta questions going on in this column, and since everyone enjoyed the last one so much –we’re gonna run another QUIZ, right at the end of this column. Because you are all so dang smart, we searched high and low and found a really challenging question courtesy of our beloved Claycordian law enforcement officer, Officer Leo.

But first, the questions of the day. Claycordians have shared many questions about specific traffic lights and intersections in Concord lately. One reader, SmallTownGirl, shared a meta-comment and a bit of humor, so the Jammer decided to do things a little differently and get the law enforcement perspective on the subject from our beloved resident Claycord police officer. Here’s SmallTownGirl’s note:

COMMUTER: I’ve noticed that the traffic control in Concord (and Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek) is really decades old. One must sit at a light for the duration – often at least one full minute, or more, before being allowed to make progress on a journey.
Can you enlighten us on the present state of traffic control in Concord and any expectation of modern equipment to replace the existing “timed” lights that force everyone to wait for minutes, regardless of traffic?

I’m familiar with controls that allow traffic to move based on the impact to the environment and am baffled by the archaic approach being used in Concord, and to some degree in Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill. How much longer should I keep my copy of “War and Peace” at hand before the lights function as they should in this area?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here are Officer Leo’s musings on the matter:

Law enforcement: One of the few jobs wherein almost everyone can tell you how to do it better. As a cousin thereof, the same could be said for traffic control and movement.

Why hasn’t traffic control (signals and whatnot) been modernized to accommodate any particular time of day or changing traffic loads? Probably because signal lights were originally installed for the safety of the intersection. Now, as a collateral asset, a series of signals can be used to effectively move traffic. Oh yeah, and traffic volume seems to grow endlessly.

Any change in programming must be studied in order to validate the proposed change. Then, the change/ improvement must be verified afterward. And any change will be undoubtedly criticized by those who thought the signals were working fine in the first place. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, changing any given intersection has a perceptible ripple effect to intersections around it.

Remember that not all lights are timed. The string of timed lights is finite. And if you’re crossing jurisdictions or near a freeway on ramp or off ramp, ownership of the signals change — and each agency has a different idea of traffic priorities. Formidable example: Monument Boulevard at Interstate 680 after school. There are three different jurisdictions that add to the daily backup there. Oh, and recent construction.

Modernization you say? That’s a grand idea. So, let’s raise taxes- the money has to come from somewhere. Enter the hullabaloo of politics discussion. Well, you voted (or didn’t) for the jokers. I’m merely an instrument of your direction.

Did you know that the timing of yellow lights is often associated with the speed limit of the street it controls? So a 35mph road will have a yellow light around 4 seconds.

(As to “War and Peace”), I prefer the many interpretations of “The Art of War.”

COMMUTER: The Caltrans website states that the HOV (commuter) lanes cannot be used by carpools pulling trailers, even if they have the required FasTrak and number of passengers. Am I reading this correctly?


TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here’s the word from California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill: “Vehicle Code section 22348(c) requires certain vehicles to remain in the rightmost lanes of traffic at all times, except to pass. The list of ‘certain vehicles’ includes all vehicles under tow, including semi-trucks and passenger vehicles towing a trailer.

“This is because all vehicles under tow are required to travel at a speed no greater than 55 mph, even if the speed limit is 65 or 70 for other vehicles. Most drivers in passenger vehicles who are towing are unaware of this law, despite the signs all over the freeway that say ‘All Vehicles When Towing 55 Maximum.’

“Because the HOV lanes are always in the leftmost lane (the fast lane), a vehicle under tow would be in conflict with several laws, such as the aforementioned lane restriction law as well as the “slower traffic keep right” laws.

COMMUTER: I commute 25 miles back and forth along Highway 4 between Martinez and Oakley. Along the way, there are several points where people will exit the freeway (Port Chicago and Somersville being the two of note) and get right back on again in an attempt to bypass traffic.

Both of these exits have clearly posted black-and-white regulatory signs that state the RIGHT LANE MUST EXIT. So in these types of situations, how is the word “exit,” as stated in the sign (and by vehicle code), defined? Does it mean that a vehicle simply has to exit the freeway, stop at the stop lights and then proceed back on the freeway? Or does “exit” mean that the person has to completely turn left or right onto another street before being considered ‘off the freeway’?

I do see CHP ticketing vehicles at the Port Chicago exit but that location also has a sign stating something to the effect of “No Through Traffic to Highway 4” (implying that in that location, it is illegal to enter back onto the freeway). Any clarification would be much appreciated!

– Highway to H*ll

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Since this is a highway question, the Jammer tapped Officer Hill:

The sign “Right Lane Must Exit” is one of many regulatory signs which motorists are required to obey per California Vehicle Code section 21641(a). This sign in particular requires drivers to remain in the “drop lane” and exit the freeway. The signs are typically placed at locations where suddenly merging from the exit lane would endanger other drivers on the road.

Even so, we often see motorists disobey these signs and use the lane to cut off other motorists and jump the line during period of heavy congestion. The CHP monitors problem locations where these signs are present, and enforces the requirements of the sign.

Most drivers are unaware that disobeying a regulatory sign is considered a moving violation, and carries the value of a point on a motorist’s driving record. To make things clear, the CHP considers this sign to be effective as soon as the vehicle passes it, so merging prior to the sign is considered lawful (so long as it is done safely!).

To answer your reader’s question specifically: beyond requiring the motorist to remain in the drop lane and leave the main thoroughfare of the freeway, there is no deeper legal definition of the word “exit.”

Once the exit lane drops off from the main portion of the freeway, the vehicle has “exited” the freeway and has complied with the requirements of the sign and law.

There are many types of off-ramps, including the type mentioned that have a roadway parallel to the mainline that re-enters the freeway down the line. Motorists can use these parallel roadways to leave and re-enter the freeway mainline without driving on surface streets without restriction in general. In locations where this action causes increased congestion and more aggressive driving, regulatory signs are erected reading “No Through Traffic.” In these locations, the motorist must also exit the off-ramp onto surface streets. Drivers who continue through the off-ramp and disobey the signs are subject to the same violation as above, and get the same point on their record!

Notable examples in Contra Costa County include the Port Chicago Highway exit as mentioned, as well as the SR-24 WB Orinda off-ramp. You will often see CHP officers enforcing these signs on these and other similar off-ramps. However, if the motorist gets to the bottom of the off-ramp, and makes a legal U-turn or other movement to get back onto the freeway, they are not considered through traffic and are not in violation of the sign.

The main point of these signs (and the rules of the road in general) are to make sure motorists behave in a predictable and safe manner. The CHP encourages motorists to always drive safely and obey the rules of the road. If every motorist behaves in a safe and predictable manner, we can all get to where we’re going safely.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: The Jammer recently ran a question about how the FasTrak system knows whether or not there are the required three people in a car in the carpool lane. California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Hill answered the question with a great deal of detail and background, but some readers expressed dissatisfaction with the answer.

Noting the responses, Officer Hill sent in a follow-up answer. Here are the original question and the follow-up answer … and then, to finish up the column, another quiz, courtesy of our resident Claycordian law enforcement officer, Officer Leo.

COMMUTER: How does the FasTrak system or bridge authority for the Benicia Bridge know if I actually have three people in my car when passing through in the carpool lane? Are there heat sensors to sense the number of persons? The bridge toll is $5, but if you use FasTrak and qualify for the carpool lane it’s only $2.50 —- but how do the authorities know you had at least 3 people in your car? (Or is it just “luck of the draw” if a person gets caught or not by CHP?) Thanks!

– Daily Bridge Crosser

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Here’s Officer Hill’s response:

I apologize because I did not precisely answer your reader’s question. I am also going to include a response to some of the comments

To more precisely answer the FasTrak/HOV question: During carpool hours, vehicles traveling in the HOV lane are charged $2.50, and during other hours the lane is a normal FasTrak lane charging the standard toll. There is no advanced heat-sensing system or other means of automatic detection for HOV violators. The technology might exist somewhere, but there is no provision of California law that allows for them to be used or HOV laws to be enforced by automation.

With respect to the HOV laws, or any laws for that matter, it is up to the individual as to whether he or she chooses to live within the laws or violate them. The role of law enforcement officers has never been to guarantee obedience to the laws. Society in general creates a system of laws which we all are expected to follow, and we as peace officers are tasked with maintaining order and dealing with those who choose to violate those laws.

No matter how many officers we employ and have on the streets, we as law enforcement cannot guarantee a completely law-abiding society. We are the stewards of the law, but we cannot force someone to obey the law. The decision to do something legal or illegal rests squarely upon the shoulders of the individual.

Many people make negative comments about traffic enforcement, in many cases due to a citation they received. I cannot speak for all law enforcement agencies, but I can explain why the California Highway Patrol enforces traffic laws.

The CHP receives no direct funding from any of the citations we issue. All proceeds from traffic violation fines go directly to the city and county where the violation occurred. The CHP enforces traffic laws because we recognize that those rules keep everyone driving safely and predictably. A predictable driver is one who behaves as everyone else expects. An unpredictable driver, whether impaired, distracted, or aggressive, causes collisions because they behave in a manner that others do not expect.

A CHP officer is tasked with responding to collisions, ranging from the minor fender bender to a multiple fatality collision. We enforce traffic laws because every officer has been to a collision where someone has died.

Nearly every traffic fatality is caused by someone who did not obey the laws, whether they be driving under the influence, speeding, driving distracted, or something else. Every person who dies on our roadway is someone’s mother, father, sibling, child, or friend who will never come home again. That person will never get the chance to live his or her life to the fullest extent. The families are forever changed by the loss of their loved one, especially so because they will realize that the cause of their loss was entirely preventable.

This is why CHP Officers enforce traffic laws. We are officers, but we are also human beings with loved ones whom we cherish. We, like everyone, do not want to experience this kind of tragedy, and do not want any other family to experience the same kind of loss.

Every traffic stop we make, every citation or verbal warning we issue is our attempt to reduce the amount of people injured or killed on the road. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has a chance to come home safely, so that an Officer does not have to give a family some of the worst news possible.

This is why the officers of the California Highway Patrol do what we do.

TRAFFIC JAMMER: Thank you, Officer Hill.

And now on to this week’s quiz! Claycordians, the first four of you to give the correct answer will be featured in next week’s column. Thanks to Officer Leo for the question.

The quiz question is short but sweet. Here you go:

When is it illegal to go on a green light?

TRAFFIC JAMMER: That’s it for this week – see you next Monday. Be sure to cruise by at 2pm for more traffic intelligence. Remember, whether you drive, walk, bike or hop Amtrak, BART or AC Transit, Traffic Jammer Janis Mara is here to answer your questions.

Send your questions to

1 Lyle Burks March 31, 2014 at 2:03 PM

when safe…………….

2 Russ Shackleford March 31, 2014 at 2:16 PM

For the quiz, I’m going to say when an emergency vehicle is traveling through the intersection with lights/sirens active.

3 Lyle Burks March 31, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Janis, scratch my first answer, I just reread the ??. It is “illegal” to go when the intersection is occupied by another vehicle, or when directed not to by an officer.

4 Killjoy March 31, 2014 at 2:26 PM

It is illegal to proceed through the intersection if you are not sure you can clear completely through.
For instance, even if your light is green, and you end up blocking the intersection because you couldn’t get through before the light turns red, that’s illegal.

5 D.L. March 31, 2014 at 2:27 PM

It is Illegal to go on a green light when your vehicle cannot completely, and safely, clear the intersection.

6 D.L. March 31, 2014 at 2:31 PM

To put it another way: It is illegal to go on a green light when your vehicle cannot completely, and safely, make it all the way through the intersection.

7 JWB March 31, 2014 at 2:40 PM

I do get how the carpool toll is being collected by FasTrak on bridges during carpool times in carpool lanes. More interesting to me is the quesiton how is the toll collection is done on the new pay HOV lanes for example on 680 south between Pleasanton and San Jose?

It is my understanding that if you have your FasTrak displayed you will be charged for using the HOV even if you have the required number of passenger in your car. Thus you need to store your FasTrak in the mylar bag in order to avoid charges.

FasTrak will take a picture of all cars driving in the carpool lane and will check the pictures of the ones without signal from a FasTrak device for the number of passengers and will only charge your account (if you have our license plate linked to your account) if you don’t have the minimum number of passengers.

8 Peter March 31, 2014 at 2:40 PM

Quiz answer:When doing so would block an intersection.Never enter an intersection if you cannot get to the other side

9 ClayDen March 31, 2014 at 2:40 PM

It it illegal to go on a green light when it is unsafe to do so.

10 Mark March 31, 2014 at 2:50 PM

Way too long.

11 Mir24 March 31, 2014 at 2:53 PM

When is it illegal to go on a green light? When vehicles/pedestrians/cyclists haven’t cleared the intersection/crosswalk.

12 Erin March 31, 2014 at 3:00 PM

When you can’t clear the intersection and you’d be blocking the intersection.

13 D March 31, 2014 at 3:00 PM

If you can not get accross before it is red — or if pedestrians etc in the way

14 Chris March 31, 2014 at 3:07 PM

When is it illegal to go on a green light?…I’m thinking when you cannot make it completely through the intersection (gridlock).

15 waverunner March 31, 2014 at 3:13 PM

If you would be blocking an intersection when the light turned red.

A note to readers: Concord DMV will be closed for renovations from April11th through Sept.26th.

16 jtkatec March 31, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Officer Leo and Officer Hill are excellent resources.

Enlightening and well presented – “The CHP receives no direct funding from any of the citations we issue. All proceeds from traffic violation fines go directly to the city and county where the violation occurred. The CHP enforces traffic laws because we recognize that those rules keep everyone driving safely and predictably. A predictable driver is one who behaves as everyone else expects. An unpredictable driver, whether impaired, distracted, or aggressive, causes collisions because they behave in a manner that others do not expect.”

17 Mimi (original) March 31, 2014 at 3:27 PM

1. when there’s no room across the intersection for your car and/or
2. when you can hear sirens and cannot tell which direction they’re coming from so you don’t know whether or not to move to the left (just in case they’re coming up on your left!).

18 Rose Garden March 31, 2014 at 3:41 PM

It is illegal to go on a green light when vehicles, bicyclists or pedestrians are in the intersection. You have to give the right of way.

Do not enter the intersection if you can’t get completely across before the light turns red. If you block the intersection, you can get a ticket.

19 Dorothy March 31, 2014 at 4:09 PM

When is it illegal to go on a green light? When an officer of the law or other emergency responder tell you to stop.

20 Richard March 31, 2014 at 4:13 PM

The CHP rarely enforces the “slower traffic keep right” law.

21 lizzie March 31, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Officer Hill is very well informed of the laws. He did a great job over Labor Day, with all the Bay bridge updates!

22 Horse n around March 31, 2014 at 4:24 PM

Answer to question. You have to yield to traffic that is legally in the intersection. Did I win? LOL

23 anonanonagain March 31, 2014 at 5:26 PM

I remember on Hwy 24 before the 4th bore, people would regularly use the Shakespeare exit to exit and then get back on the 24 to bypass the traffic. It would drive me nuts. I don’t remember if there was a sign stating No Through Traffic. If there was, then that could have been a huge moneymaker ticket wise……

24 Anon March 31, 2014 at 6:06 PM

I got a fix it ticket from a CHP because I didn’t get out of his way. on 680 N after the hwy 4 interchange. Of course the fact I was ahead, and he was speeding up with his lights on behind me didn’t matter, he was upset because I didn’t get out of his way. It was BS because he walked around the car to find any problems, which means he didn’t have a reason for pulling me over in the first place.

25 Dredge March 31, 2014 at 6:32 PM

When so directed by a traffic officer.

26 @Anon 24 March 31, 2014 at 7:01 PM

I guess he wasn’t in too big of a hurry, since he had time to pull you over and inspect your car. Seems like it would have been easier to just cite you for not moving to the right like you’re supposed to.

27 Fastrak lane March 31, 2014 at 7:04 PM

I often cross the Benicia bridge towing a trailer and I always use the Fastrak lane, even though it’s on the left. So do a bunch of tractor-trailers and other vehicles that I see. I find it hard to believe that it’s against the law, just because the Fastrak lane happens to be on the left and trailers are supposed to keep right.

And yes, I move back to the right as soon as I pass through the toll plaza.

28 Antler March 31, 2014 at 8:26 PM

QUIZ answer:

It is “illegal to go on a green light” whenever prevailing vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions make it dangerous for you to do so. (Keep in mind that your entrance into the intersectin on a green light makes you obligated to clear the intersectin before the light turns red again.)

29 Antler March 31, 2014 at 8:31 PM

Officer Hill, your statement is beautifully, brutally honest as to the ultimate importance of every driver’s accepting responsibility for driving safely…..everywhere and all the time. Thank you so very much.

30 Antler March 31, 2014 at 9:19 PM

***sorry…..didn’t see the bad autocorrect. The word is “intersection”.

31 Funnyclown March 31, 2014 at 11:51 PM

@ #23

That was the best exit. It was the best shortcut for regular commuters, all you had to do was speed up before fish ranch exit, get back in, and like magic shave a few minutes from travel time. They honestly should have had some sort of sign. I used that exit on my rare drives during commute hours, but I’m guessing in such an area, whoever had the power to make such decision never cared. Im sure that with time that issue will return. but solution will be to spend millions on another tunnel, might sound funny at the moment but time will tell.

32 Mother of a good driver April 1, 2014 at 5:42 AM

This is off subject, but my son who is the sole supporter of his family of four must now take a day off of work to contest a ticket. He was stopped at a signal alongside a paroling officer in an SUV when a call or message lit up his phone’s screen on his center console. He glanced at the officer on his right, who was looking down into his car at him. My son was wearing a bluetooth. When the light changed the officer pulled him over and told him he was being cited for texting, and he mentioned the CHP’s program over the weekend all about distracted driving. My son said he hadn’t touched his phone, and that he could see that from his viewpoint looking down into his car. The officer told him in the end that he’d already written the ticket, but he (my son) could go to court and he (the officer) wouldn’t be there! I thought I’d use this platform to protest this injustice!

33 Anon777 April 1, 2014 at 6:14 AM

So if I understand correctly regarding Fastrak and carpooling, I would have to say that if I cross thru Fastrak during carpooling hours, and Fastrak only charges me the lower carpool fee when I didn’t have enough people in my car, I say that the system is flawed, not that I am breaking the law. NOTE: I am speaking specifically of the only bridge I cross, being Benicia. I’m not going to wait in line when I have Fastrak just because it’s also carpooling hours.

#27 Fastrak Lane: I’m sure it’s not illegal to use that lane to utilize Fastrak when towing, as long as you said, you move back over once you get thru. We do this all the time across the Benicia bridge.

34 Captain Freeway April 1, 2014 at 8:18 AM

Ahhh yes – Exit Cheating. I see it all the time on HWY 24 in Lafayette/Orinda just for starters- either west bound at Wilder Road or east bound at Pleasant Hill Road. These two exit ramps are completely different of course and although doing it at Wilder Road is probably perfectly legal – it’s clearly something selfish drivers do. Chances are they are also lane changing, gap-shooting tailgating drivers too. Those cheaters sure get upset too when there is no room from them to merge back in. Ever wonder why the more wrong they are, the more upset they get when someone calls them on their illegal, unsafe or inconsiderate driving? Be safe out there… watch out for the aggressive, lane-changing, gap-shooting, exiting cheating tailgaters… and please try not to be one yourself. CF :)

35 Teacher Wannabe April 1, 2014 at 8:22 AM

@ Funnyclown & #23. Bugged the heck out of me when people did this, then I ran a random check and most of the time if I tracked a specific vehicle getting off the freeway along with another vehicle which stayed on, I found most of the time the vehicle trying to scoot ahead ended up behind us. And they thought they were being sneaky.

@Anon #24, if you didn’t yield to the officer when he had his lights on, then you deserved a ticket. I hate it when people feel that emergency vehicle laws don’t apply to them.

36 crazytech58 April 1, 2014 at 10:25 AM

How about the REVERSE scenario…. WHEN is it OK to proceed through an intersection when the light is RED ?? Is it legal to proceed SAFELY through when an emergency vehicle is coming up behind you, and there is no room for it to pass alongside ?? Another scenario that happens at times, as a motorcycle rider, some signal lights don’t detect the presence of motorcycles, so end up “running” a red light after the light has ignored me for a lengthy period, how many cops would still write a ticket in this case ?

37 @Captain Righteous April 1, 2014 at 11:12 AM

It’s not “Exit Cheating”. It’s a “commuting strategy”. I’ve used the Wilder Road offramp for this purpose hundreds of times. I’ve probably even seen you looking all smug because you thought you weren’t going to let me in. But the joke’s on you. I have to exit at Fish Ranch, anyway.

38 Captain Freeway April 1, 2014 at 11:40 AM

@37 It’s okay to call me out as someone who calls out people like you. There are fewer of you out there… fortunately. :)

39 @CF April 1, 2014 at 12:55 PM

If you want to “call me out” for doing something perfectly legal, have at it. I also yield to pedestrians and stop at stop signs if you want to really rip me a new one.

40 Captain Freeway April 1, 2014 at 8:29 PM

@39 – Excellent, Im very glad to hear you stop for pedestrians and at crosswalks. That is a huge problem that many others ignore…so well done.

41 CHP Ofc. Hill is mistaken April 3, 2014 at 10:42 PM

“The CHP receives no direct funding from any of the citations we issue. All proceeds from traffic violation fines go directly to the city and county where the violation occurred.”

Incorrect my brother. It is the STATE and COUNTY that receive the lion’s share of the fine money. The city gets put a pittance. Usually around 10% or so. County gets the most with the state close behind. Okay you are correct that the state’s portion of the fine collected does not go directly into the CHP budget, but it does go to the states general fund, which in turn funds the CHP. Check your facts, Jack!

LEO brother

42 Dear Poster 41 April 4, 2014 at 8:05 AM

No, you check your facts.

The CHP is not funded from the General Fund.

43 Archie April 5, 2014 at 12:27 AM

Chp is not funded by the general fund, they are funded by vehicle registration fees.
Jwb, Fastrak does not take pictures of vehicle to check the number of passengers in them to conform to carpool requirements.

44 Janis Mara April 5, 2014 at 12:51 AM

Wow, I am humbled that people are still commenting on this thread so many days after the column first appeared. It always makes me so happy to get lots of comments!

As @Dear Poster 41 and @Archie commented, the CHP’s main source of funding is the State Transportation Fund’s Motor Vehicle Account, which is funded primarily by driver’s license and vehicle registration fees. Here is the page on the CHP website detailing the sources of funding:

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: