Which Cars Will Be Able To Drive in CA HOV Carpool Lanes?

CA HOV decal

Recent activity in Sacramento and new technology coming to market means that changes are in store for which vehicles will qualify for single occupant use of the HOV lanes in California.   Much of what has appeared in the media has been confusing, inconsistent, or just incorrect.

Here’s a recap of what we know as of now…

1. Yellow Stickers-  85,000 of of these were issued to qualifying hybrids, of which there were three: 1) Toyota Prius, 2) Honda Civic Hybrid, and 3) Honda Insight (only 2000-2004).   The only way to get one of these stickers is to buy a car that already has one.   One small loophole: If you own a car with issued decals, and that car is in a wreck and declared salvage, you can get a replacement sticker to put on another qualifying hybrid.   All yellow stickers were scheduled to expire January 1, 2011. New law SB 535 would extend that date to July 1, 2011, after which the yellow stickers would be history.  SB 535 was just passed, and goes to the governor’s desk for signature.

You can get the latest status and read more about the bill here:  http://totalcapitol.com/?bill_id=200920100SB535

2.  White stickers-  Far less known, there have been an unlimited number of white stickers available for cars that are  pure zero emission vehicles.  That would include pure electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and compressed natural gas (CNG).  AB 1500 extends the life of these stickers four years from 1/1/11 to 1/1/15.  Here are the most common vehicles that qualify today for the white stickers:  Tesla Roadster, Honda FXC Clarity (fuel cell) and Honda Civic GX (CNG).  There are a number of other vehicles that qualify and you can get the official list here:
http://arbis.arb.ca.gov/msprog/carpool/carpool.htm

3. New stickers-  Here’s where it gets interesting.  SB 535 would require the DMV “… to issue up to 40,000 identifiers , that are distinguishable from the identifiers issued for low-emission, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles, to vehicles that meet Californias enhanced advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicle (enhanced AT PZEV) standard…”  The key word here being “enhanced”.   The expectation is that this would apply to the next generation  of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles with gas engine assist, like the Chevy Volt.

Until that law is signed, the upcoming Nissan Leaf would qualify for a white sticker, because it is a pure electric vehicle, whereas the Chevy Volt would not, because it is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it can run on its gas engine as well.

The most likely outcome is that if you own a conventional hybrid, like the Prius and Civic Hybrid, you will be able to continue using the yellow stickers until next July.  After that, you’ll either have to get a pure zero emission vehicle which can qualify for the white sticker, or one of the next generation hybrids that will qualify for the new sticker.

Stay tuned for more updates. And if you have specific questions or comments, post your comment below!