New California Laws Extend HOV Carpool Lane Privileges

 HOV Carpool Decals

It’s official: Yesterday, the governor signed into law SB 535.  Together with AB 1500, the new laws spell out the next phase of carpool lane privileges for alternative fuel vehicles.

As reported previously, white decal carpool stickers will be extended until January 1, 2015 for zero emission vehicles.  There are an unlimited number of these decals and you can apply for one now, if you happen to have one of the few vehicles available that is pure electric or runs on compressed natural gas.  More importantly, the Nissan Leaf, when it debuts later this year in California will qualify for the white decal.

GM’s Chevy Volt will NOT qualify, because it is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it has a gas engine in additional to an electric motor.  As such, it is not a zero emission vehicle, and cannot get the white decal.    This is why GM sponsored SB 535 which creates a new class of carpool decals for the next generation of plug-in hybrids.   These new decals will become available starting January 1, 2012 and be limited to 40,000 vehicles.

The coming generation of plug-in hybrids will be called “enhanced advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicles”, as compared to today’s hybrids, which are classified as “advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicles.”   This distinction will allow the plug-in hybrids to qualify for the new carpool stickers, while current versions of Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid will not.

Owners of carpool hybrids with the yellow decal got there privileges extended until July 1, 2011.    After that, the yellow decals expire permanently.

What all this means is that if you currently drive a hybrid with a carpool sticker, you’ll be able to keep driving in the HOV lanes until July, 2011.  After that, if you want to keep driving in the carpool lanes, you’ll either have to upgrade to a Nissan Leaf, which should be widely available by then, or buy a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, and wait six months for the new carpool stickers to be issued.   All carpool stickers will expire in January, 2015.