If you’ve ever driven in California, you’d know that one of the state’s defining qualities is its carpool lanes. Carpool or high-occupancy vehicle lanes are lanes of traffic designated for vehicles with more than one commuter. According to California’s Department of Transportation, nearly half of all the traffic on state highways travels through HOV lanes. HOV lanes can be used by solo drivers of motorcycles and people with white or yellow clean-air stickers on their cars (shown above). That means stickered vehicles like the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius can drive down the carpool lane without remorse.
Well, with hybrids being as popular as they are in California — 85,000 people have an exemption sticker on their hybrids already — the state has decided to let the stickers lapse or expire at the end of this year. Hybrid cars with only one occupant in them would have to merge back into the mixed-flow lanes.
We’re in favor of this move as the idea behind carpool lanes is to move more people, not more cars. We understand the concept behind the yellow clean-air stickers was to promote hybrids, which get double the mileage of many other vehicles on the road, but there are a number of 30-plus mpg cars on the road today that aren’t hybrids.
Of course, buyers of the Tesla Roadster, Honda’s fuel cell FXC Clarity or Honda’s compressed gas Civic GX would still be permitted to drive in the HOV lane with one driver as those drivers are a part of a much more elite class of white clean-air-sticker holders.
HOV lanes are typically only enforced during peak traffic periods, with the exception of most in Los Angeles, where it is enforced 24/7. The minimum fine for being caught in a HOV lane with only one passenger is $381. As with most hard-and-fast laws in California, there are dozens of exemptions, exceptions and addendums.
California drivers shouldn’t give up their hopes yet, as pending legislation could extend the yellow stickers until July 1, 2011.
For a complete list of cars that qualify for yellow or white clean-air stickers go here.