Most hybrids to lose CA HOV access, electric vehicles can stay

Starting in 2011, expect the regular highway lanes to be crowded with about 85,000 more vehicles, as the HOV access comes to an end for hybrids. But the free ride continues for zero-emissions vehicles like the Tesla Roadster and Nissan Leaf.

This is the new Clean Air Vehicle Sticker that gives a single-occupant vehicle access to HOV lanes in California.
This is the new Clean Air Vehicle Sticker that gives a single-occupant vehicle access to HOV lanes in California. CA DOT

Those yellow Clean Air Vehicle stickers that gave tens of thousands of hybrids access to full-time use of California's carpool lanes are long gone, and the clock is ticking down on the time they're valid. But for a few near zero-emissions vehicles, the HOV lane remains wide open to the single-party driver for another four years.

A recent bill was signed in California extending the amount of time that vehicles meeting California's super ultra-low emission vehicle (SULEV) standard and the federal inherently low-emission vehicle (ILEV) standard can use the HOV lane with less than the minimum number of occupants to qualify for a carpool.

That means that many Priuses will be bumper to bumper with the rest of the single-occupant vehicles, yet owners of zero-emissions cars, such as the Honda Civic GX, the Honda FCX Clarity, and the Tesla Roadster can still drive solo in the HOV lane once they get their new sticker. The Nissan Leaf, once it's on the market, will also qualify. The new stickers are valid until December 31, 2015, which could be another incentive to buy or lease these high-priced environmentally friendlier vehicles.

The rest of the hybrid owners still sporting HOV stickers have until January 1, 2011 to enjoy the carpool lane without needing to buddy up. But after that deadline passes, expect the carpool lane to be a lot emptier, and the regular lanes to be about 85,000 cars more crowded.

The California Air Resources Board maintains a list of vehicles that will qualify for the new single occupant carpool lane use stickers.

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