Because hybrid cars generally produce fewer emissions than conventional gasoline-powered cars, these fuel-efficient vehicles offer the same symbolic gesture for green driving as carpooling does. This has led some states, including California, Virginia, Arizona and Colorado, to offer special permits or decals for hybrid car owners which give them access to the HOV lane. Other states, like Connecticut and Georgia, have considered similar measures but have yet to pass legislation.
In this situation, what sets hybrid cars aside from carpools or buses is that hybrid car owners with an HOV decal don't have to have two or more people in the car to use the lane. If there's just one person driving a hybrid car, and that vehicle has a legitimate decal, the person is using the HOV lane legally and won't get a ticket or incur any other restricted lane penalties.
This is good news for hybrid car owners living in the states offering the programs, and not just because it can let drivers pass traffic on the left. It has also increased the value of hybrid cars -- in California, for instance, drivers buying a used hybrid car were willing to pay an extra $4,000 for a hybrid car with an HOV decal. This, of course, may just be supply and demand working itself out, since the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued no more than 85,000 decals to Honda Insight, Honda Civic hybrid and Toyota Prius models, all of which get 45 miles per gallon (19.1 kilometers per liter) or more. The decals are non-transferable, too. Once a sticker is placed on a car, that's where it stays [source: Hybrid Car Review].
Ironically enough, one problem with hybrid cars in HOV lanes has been more traffic congestion. During the early stages of these programs, drivers in some states complained of congested carpool lanes, placing the blame on the increase in the number of hybrid cars awarded the special decals. In 2007, for instance, traffic in carpool lanes in Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., became seriously affected. Others point out a lack of problems in different areas of the state, such as San Diego and Riverside counties, and claim that hybrids aren't the cause for congestion; instead, citing that rising populations in certain areas have simply added more people to the roadways.
Another unwanted side effect of offering hybrid HOV decals was a rise in crime -- in California, stealing the coveted stickers quickly became a problem in many areas, especially once long wait lists blocked drivers from acquiring permits.
For more information about hybrid cars, fuel efficiency and eco-friendly driving, follow the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Downey, Dave. "State tries to free up car-pool lanes; California's hybrid policy triggers federal requirement to keep lanes open." North County Times. June 19, 2007. (May 11, 2009) http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2007/06/20/news/sandiego/12_01_396_19_07.txt
- Ginsberg, Steven and Carol Morello. "As Hybrid Cars Multiply, So Do Carpooling Gripes." The Washington Post. Jan. 7, 2005. (May 11, 2009) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A54561-2005Jan6.html
- Hybrid Car Review. "How to Add $4,000 to Your Used Car Sale." March 26, 2007. (May 11, 2009) http://hybridreview.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-to-add-4000-to-your-used-car-sale.html
- Hybrid Car Review. "Hybrid Cars in the HOV Lane May Be Extended Through 2017." March 18, 2009. (May 11, 2009) http://hybridreview.blogspot.com/2009/03/hybrid-cars-in-hov-lane-may-be-extended.html
- Hybrid Car Review. "Stealing HOV Stickers, the newest crimewave." April 11, 2007. (May 11, 2009) http://hybridreview.blogspot.com/2007/04/stealing-hov-stickers-newest-crimewave.html
- Washington State Department of Transportation. "Washington State Freeway HOV System." May 2009. (May 11, 2009) http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/hov/