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HOV Violator Crackdown Catches Solo Drivers & Local Officers

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - "I got on and I couldn't get off." "They didn't give us no choice!" Those are some of the excuses Dallas County Sheriff Deputies are hearing from drivers traveling solo in the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes along Interstate-30 in Dallas.

We also heard "I have a mid-term." "I just moved here." And, even "I'm about to pass out." This one required a call to the fire department. An ambulance arrived and the driver seemed to improve.

While you're fighting traffic in the regular lanes, these deputies are now listening to excuses from some drivers who are getting pulled over in the HOV lanes.

The explanations did not work on the days the CBS 11 I-Team camped out with the deputies, and we've learned wearing a uniform will apparently no longer fly either.

We heard one deputy tell an off duty officer who was in his personal car alone, "You can't be in the HOV lane in an uniform." The driver was an off duty officer. He told the deputy, "He's never been stopped before."

Texas HOV lanes are for vehicles with two or more people, motorcycles and government vehicles with visible emergency equipment. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) wrote the tickets to violators until October 1, 2013. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) now manages the lanes. The Dallas County Sheriff's Department enforces the laws.

Sources tell the I-Team that off-duty law enforcement officers in their personal vehicles have been allowed to travel alone in the these typically faster lanes for years. One deputy said, "They let them go in the past and TxDOT doesn't want that anymore so they changed it. Not going to work anymore."

The I-Team spent two days with the deputies now working enforcement. We watched them write more than 75-tickets in four hours. Lanes of violators waited for their 300-dollar citations. We saw deputies give verbal warnings to three-local police officers and one federal agent. They told them that they could no longer travel in these lanes alone in their personal cars.

Some of the officers argued saying they had been allowed to drive solo in the lanes for years. But, DART tells the I-team this is not true. Spokesperson Morgan Lyons sent the I-team a 2008 letter signed by DART's Chief of Police. It clarifies who is allowed to travel in the HOV lanes. It clearly states, "This policy does not apply to off-duty law enforcement personnel in their personal vehicles."

Lyons also sent CBS 11 the following statement:

"The DART and TxDOT policy that was in place prior to October 1 did not allow off-duty law enforcement officers to use the region's HOV lanes as single occupants. The policy allowed on-duty plain clothes officers in unmarked cars to use the lanes as single occupants. DART enforced this policy consistently."

The I-Team learned the violations continue.

Now, a new set of traffic cops is stepping up enforcement. They are trying to break an old habit--telling their own to stop breaking the law.

The Dallas County Sheriff's Department sent us the following statement:

"As of Oct. 1st, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department has taken over HOV lane enforcement duties previously performed by DART police. With the transfer of this new TxDOT interlocal agreement come changes regarding the access to law enforcement officers driving unmarked cars.This is a clarification period in which previously exempt drivers are being educated of the changes. The Dallas County Sheriff's Department is committed to enforcing the proper use of HOV lanes for all drivers."

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