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California Hybrid Drivers Lose Car-Pool Lane Privileges

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Clean Air Vehicle access pass issued by California DMV to hybrid vehicles

Clean Air Vehicle access pass issued by California DMV to hybrid vehicles

Starting July 1st, solo drivers of hybrid cars in California will see their special pass to the car pool lane disappear.

Since 2004, hybrid owners with a special permit were allowed entry into California’s High-Occupancy-Vehicle (HOV) lanes even when driving alone. 

The special yellow key-shaped decals that denoted access quickly became a must-have for traffic-weary hybrid owners, and added up to $1,500 to the resale value of the hybrid that sported one against its more mundane siblings.

Owners are, predictably, not happy about the situation.  Some commuters have seen their travel times halved by the ability to use the car-pool lane while driving solo.  Equally predictable is the reaction by drivers of non-hybrids, who have expressed annoyance at having to sit in clogged traffic while single-occupant hybrids whiz by on their left. 

Exactly 85,000 passes were issued by the DMV to vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid that met the criterion of having ultra-low emissions and attaining at least 45 mpg.  Letters informing owners of the change to the rule were mailed in May.

Originally set to expire at the end of 2008, the California Assembly extended the permit law twice.  This last six-month reprieve was granted to allow production of plug-in hybrids and all-electrics to ramp up.  The DMV will issue a new round of clean-air decals starting in January.

The 10,000 drivers of all-electric, compressed natural-gas, or hydrogen-powered cars that sport a white decal will be able to use the carpool lane when driving alone, at least until January 1st, 2015.

The fine for driving solo in the carpool lane in California is $431.

[California DMV]
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