Congress Considers Opening HOV Lanes to Hybrids Nationwide

Several states have joined California in lobbying Congress to let states make their own rules regulating which automobiles get access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. If Congress agrees, the upshot would be that drivers of gas-electric hybrids could access HOV lanes with or without passengers from coast to coast.

Since federal transportation money foots the bill for car pool lanes, the federal government dictates the rules for which automobiles qualify. Currently, only vehicles with two or more occupants can use HOV lanes, except in California where a state law allows hybrids without passengers. Similar state laws are under consideration in Arizona, Connecticut and Georgia.

According to Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who co-sponsored the legislation last week, hybrids "are allowing us to enhance the environment, reduce air pollution in California, and yet we’re not allowed to do this. This bill will allow that to happen, not just in California but for all 50 states."

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has made improving air quality a centerpiece of his environmental agenda, signed California’s law back in September.

California’s law requires hybrid drivers to get decals from the Department of Motor Vehicles to enter car pool lanes. In order to avoid overcrowding in HOV lanes, though, the state will only issue 75,000 decals each year.