Want To Drive In The HOV Lane Without Passengers? The EPA Has A Rule For You

The EPA has proposed a rule that would allow drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles to use the high occupancy vehicle lanes without bringing along those pesky carpoolers. Most states require at least two occupants for a vehicle to travel in the HOV lane.

Qualifying vehicles would need to be at least 25% more fuel-efficient than comparable gas-powered cars. Four manufacturers – Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Mazda – offer eleven models that would qualify, including two powered by natural gas.

The eleven qualifying vehicles, inside…


  • 2004-07 Toyota Prius

  • 2006-07 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • 2006-07 Lexus RX400h
  • 2006 Mazda Tribute Hybrid
  • 2006-07 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
  • 2005-07 Ford Escape Hybrid
  • 2003-2004 Ford Crown Victoria (natural gas)
  • 2003-07 Honda Civic Hybrid
  • 2003-06 Honda Insight
  • 2005, 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
  • 2003-05 Honda Civic (natural gas)

    States worried about anti-carpool yokels clogging their HOV lanes can propose stricter standards; California won’t let a solo hybrid driver onto their HOV lanes unless their car gets 45 mpg. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

    EPA Pushes Pool Lane Rules for Hybrids [Washington Post]

  • Comments

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    1. Buran says:

      I have two friends who own Priuses, one in California and the other in Florida. Both can drive in HOV lanes without passengers.

      I plan to move down to FL to live with my bf (who’s one of the two) and if I wind up working farther from home than he does, and need to drive down I-95 (which is the local road with HOV lanes) I’ll take the Prius. The HOV-ability plus the better mileage (he lives just a few miles from work and could use my car for his short commute, or we could carpool) makes the Prius a great car for commuters.

      I do agree with giving hybrids HOV privileges. While it is true that hybrids do create pollution somewhere (largely during production) over time they don’t create as much as a standard car does — and I also think that it’s a good idea to reward those who act to lower our fossil fuel usage and pollution. Sadly, people won’t act to do the right thing unless there’s something in it for them.

      So, let’s make sure people do the right thing with small gestures like this. It really does work, from what I’ve seen during visits to see him, the traffic in the HOV lane is quite a bit less than traffic in the rest of the lanes — and even if every hybrid driver I’ve seen were moving in the HOV lanes (and I am familiar with hybrid vehicle badging in the US market and can quickly identify makes and models) there’d still be less traffic in the lane.

      Sadly, my current state of residence doesn’t provide any benefits to hybrid drivers of any kind — e.g. lower gas taxes (we don’t have HOV lanes or toll roads here). That’s something that needs to change. But this state is behind on a lot of other things, too …

    2. mac-phisto says:

      why get a prius when you can get a “special designator” that allows you to swerve in & out of the hov lane, travel in the separator that exists between them & otherwise drive like a flaming hole….

      http://www.15q.net/us3/nj98.jpg

    3. raybury says:

      We have this on I-95 in Northern Virginia on two reversible lanes that head toward DC in the morning and away in the afternoon, usually as HOV-3. New cars stopped being eligible in the middle of last year. Some complaints that are made:

      1) High-speed highway driving is one of the least effective ways to get the efficiency boost a hybride offers, but clogging the the HOV lanes means that all those 3-plus passenger non-hybrids brun more gas by being on the road longer.

      2) Hybrid drivers sometimes spend too much attention to maximizing their fuel efficiency, keeping them — and cars travelling around them — moving slower, defeating both of the goals of HOV, shorter travel time and less fuel usage (which results from both ride-sharing and less congestion).

    4. synergy says:

      Damn! I missed on the regular Honda Civic by a year. Oh well. It’s not like it’s evolved down here and have such a thing as special lanes on the interstate based on efficiency. People drive in the lane they can shoehorn their 8-wheel trucks into so they can pass you – often by the right lane. No, they’re not commercial trucks…

    5. enm4r says:

      This was allowed in VA up until I believe this year or last, but it was for all hybrids. I moved away from the area, but used to live just south of the beltway. I remember the legislation that would take away the HOV privileges, but I’m not 100% if/when it went into practice.

      Either way, I have mixed feelings. It should definitely be the cream of the crop in efficiency, because I don’t want to be seeing the Hybrid Escapes in there getting 24mpg or whatever they get. The 25% rule seems pretty strict, I like it.

    6. gamble says:

      I thought the reward for driving a hybrid was not having to buy gas as often.

      I think people should be required to carpool when using the HOV lane regardless of the kind of car they drive.

    7. 2Legit2Quit says:

      mac-phisto if this was digg, i’d dig you into oblivion. Haha I loved it, I live in New Jersey and it’s really quite convenient to be able to “swerve in & out of the hov lane, travel in the separator that exists between them & otherwise drive like a flaming hole….”

      :) thanks for the laugh

    8. dr88 says:

      I’m sure many owners of the non-hybrid model cars listed would pay some $$ to get the hybrid badge on the back of their car. I know I would….

    9. SOhp101 says:

      Hybrids work their magic best when they’re driving in stop/go traffic. Two Priuses on the road may make less pollution than one regular Accord with two people in it, but the Accord will take up half the space of two Priuses.

      Less cars on the highway = more room for everyone to drive
      more room for everyone to drive = less traffic
      less traffic = a LOT less pollution

      Giving hybrids a tax cut is already good enough… they shouldn’t be taking up space in the HOV lane as well.

    10. Buran says:

      @dr88: Doesn’t help. The state knows what you actually have due to the registered VIN. You can put anything on it you want (or debadge entirely, which I did) but if your car doesn’t meet the requirement, no exemption sticker for you.

    11. Buran says:

      @raybury: Actually, hybrid drivers drive at the speed limit or close to it. It’s the stops, starts, flooring it, etc. that kill mileage on most vehicles. The “they’re going too slow” attitude you get from people complaining about hybrid drivers is the “they refuse to break the law by going above the limit, so I’m angry because others won’t break the law for me”.

      If you think they’re moving too slowly, pass and get over it.

    12. LatherRinseRepeat says:

      I think some cities just need to spend more money on building better public transportation. And change the HOV lane requirements to 3 or more persons, hybrid or not.

    13. raybury says:

      @Buran: I don’t have a dog in this fight, but as I wrote am just reporting what “complaints that are made.” Your response rang a bell; I seem to recall the speeding complainers saying that the hybrids indeed tend to do the speed limit, but do so in the passing lane.

    14. roche says:

      What about the people that have purchased a really small car because it got great gas mileage? My Geo Metro gets just as good mileage than a Prius but I don’t get any extra benefits because why? They both run on gasoline. If you are going to do this, you have to say all cars that get better than so and so MPG.

    15. dr88 says:

      @Buran: Are cops going to go out of their way to check if the Honda Accord they see in the HOV lane (with the hybrid badge) is, in fact a hybrid? Other than checking the plates and seeing the car info, or pulling the car over, I don’t see how the cops can distinguish between a hybrid vs. non-hybrid model.

    16. smokyburnout says:

      no diesel love? stupid epa…
      you can get a benz or vee-dub diesel thats got 25% better fuel milasge while making at least 25% more power, and they save fuel even at highway speeds…

    17. coreyander says:

      Not that I know anything about it, but why didn’t cars converted to use bio-diesel make the cut on this?

    18. chandler in hollywood says:

      The tyranny of the EPA over the physical design of our freeways must be stopped. The motivational logic of the carpool lane is a dinosaur vastly overridden by the effect it has on actually WASTING gas gas. The EPA is the reason we have a gazillion boutique fuels screwing up the price of gas. The EPA needs to be reigned in. Regan should have never changed the fleet fuel requirements in the early eighties as a result of the Arab Oil Embargo of the 70’s. And now people are buying cars to get around the bad laws. Sheesh.

    19. smokyburnout says:

      @coreyander: could have something to do with the fact that that is only done by the aftermarket and do-it-yourselfers…
      that, and its impossible to tell if a car is so converted when it passes by at highway speed…
      then again, same goes for hybrids vs. gas cars of the same model, as well as diesel vs gas, as has been pointed out already…

      then again, they could probably check that out when you apply for a sticker like the one pictured at the top…
      on the other hand, i imagine you could easily fake/steal that…

    20. TVarmy says:

      @smokyburnout: Maybe meter maids could carry around PDAs to check if a license plate is allowed to carry the sticker, and then ticket the driver if they don’t match up. In my area, all the police officers already have PDAs to do quick background checks on people and get messages from dispatchers and so on.

    21. Android8675 says:

      No… and no. Think were basically saying, hey get a fuel efficient car for commuting and you can get to work really fast and still have to to drive your Hummer (Heh, Hummer) around on the weekends!

      Sorry, but F*** hybrid privileges, if you wanna go in the carpool lane, make a friend like everyone else.

      It’s like buying a hybrid, but you still drive it 2 blocks to get a soda from 7/11.

      Saw a guy with his carpool stickers tapped to the inside of his windows for fear of getting them stolen, the next week someone had tossed a rock through his window and stolen the stickers.

    22. lizzybee says:

      Oh, give me a break! A hybrid Highlander allowed in the HOV lane when my Toyota Echo isn’t??? I average 40-41 mpg, city and highway, while the Highlander gets 32 highway, 27 city. I agree with roche– this “hybrid is automagically better” thinking is crap, and actual MPG should be used as the true measure.

    23. roche says:

      @lizzybee: A Ford Escape Hybrid that gets just 34 MPG on the highway gets to go in the HOV lane while my 45 mpg Metro is stuck in stop and go traffic. Total crap…..

      I get f’ed for trying to do my part by driving a fuel efficient car while some soccer mom in her SUV gets her way. F that…..

    24. Davey G. says:

      The only hybrids allowed with a solo driver in HOV lanes in California were the Honda Insight, Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. Hybrid SUVs like the Escape, Mountaineer and Highlander were excluded from the program, which has now filled its quota. That said, I still think the program was bullshit. If municipalities really wanted to reward hybrids where they do best, they’d let them use bus lanes. Portland, Oregon, I’m looking at you.

    25. greatgreenglobs says:

      Seems like a good idea in the 2007 right now, but I hope this legislation has a set renewal/expiry date. Regardless of any rah-rah environmentalism, most cars in the very foreseeable future are going to be efficient hybrids simply because they will be cheaper to own. HOV lanes will be meaningless if they’re just as crowded as the rest.

      I certainly support the idea right now, but governments better have legal hooks to reissue Version2 Blue stickers for 75+ mpg only come 2010.

    26. Amy Alkon says:

      Are cops going to go out of their way to check if the Honda Accord they see in the HOV lane (with the hybrid badge) is, in fact a hybrid? Other than checking the plates and seeing the car info, or pulling the car over, I don’t see how the cops can distinguish between a hybrid vs. non-hybrid model.

      Unless you steal the stickers (which is sure to get you in big trouble the first time a meter maid takes a good look at your car — or if a cop asks to see your reg and your permit for the stickers) you can’t get them unless you have a certified hybrid that’s permitted under the law to get the stickers, like my SULEV (Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) Honda Insight. (I spent $157 on gas last year. You?)

      I bought my car in 2004 before there were privileges like I get now — free parking at meters in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and HOV lane use (not that there’s one anywhere near me). I spent extra money on a car simply because I thought it was the right thing to do — so I wouldn’t pollute or contribute to the deaths of men and women in our military, which means I try not to make a lot of unnecessary trips, and, in general, I try to lead a life where I’m not driving all over the place…not an option for everybody, I know.

      I’ve also been using reusablebags.com for years, and before that, reusing plastic bags, like Europeans do…and now, suddenly, I get entry into a free raffle at Trader Joe’s for bringing my own bags. It’s kind of nice, actually, although I made these choices out of the goodness of my little environmentally correct heart.

    27. gameraboy says:

      The crazy thing is at highway speeds hybrids have no advantage over gasoline powered cars. Heck, on the highway they ARE just gasoline powered cars with a heavy battery pack to lug around. They only gain fuel efficiency in stop and go city traffic, and even then things like the Jetta diesel and some of the Honda Civic models are almost as fuel efficient w/o a big pile of toxic batteries to dispose of later.

    28. kjherron says:

      My diesel VW gets 41 mpg, vs. 28 for the gasoline version with the same transmission. I wonder why theyre’ not on the list.

    29. rbb says:

      Allowing single occupant hybrids into the HOV-3 lanes causes more congestion, more pollution and wastes more fuel than a normal vehicle with 3 occupants.

      On I-395 in VA, the congestion in the HOV laneshas worsened because of the influx of single occupant hybrids.

      3 hybrids combined put out more pollution than a modern late model sedan.

      And they waste fuel. Let’s spot the hybrids a charitable 50mpg on a 50 mile trip. Three hybrids would use 1 gallon each for a total of 3 gallons. One car getting 30mpg for the same trip would use 1.67 gallons – 1.33 gallons less than the hybrids. The hybrids use 1.8 times more fuel.

      Bonus question #1. How low would the mpg rating for the car be to equal the fuel consumption of the hybrids? 50/3 = 16.67 miles per gallon or roughly that of an SUV on the highway. So much for the argument about SUVs wasting fuel…

      Bonus question #2. How many mpg would the hybrids have to get to equal that of a diesel getting 40 mpg? 50/40 = 1.25 gallons for the diesel. 1.25 gallons of gas for 3 hybrids = .42 gallons per hybrid. 50 miles/.42 gallons = 120 miles per gallon…

    30. MeOhMy says:

      I’ll echo other naysayers. My conventional Civic gets 38-40MPG. It’s nice that the hybrid Escape gets 30MPG instead of 18MPG, but I’m still doing a better job. If you want to let fuel efficient cars use the HOV lanes, then base it on actual fuel efficiency.

    31. Onouris says:

      This is a good idea, or at least, letting cars that have ‘good’ (by American standards) efficiency use the lanes.

      They might be going about selecting the cars in the wrong way to some people but then what’s the point in letting all high mileage cars use the lanes if it still uses a crap load of oil to refill the things.

      Don’t whine at the hybrids so much, they obviously haven’t got them perfect yet.

    32. peakay says:

      The California law is better — the pigs like the Highlander hybrid do not get this privilege. Or, you can rock a Crown Vic natch gas…..

    33. sleze69 says:

      I get 40mpg in my diesel Passat but my car isn’t on the list? How is a Ford Escape on the list!?

    34. @LatherRinseRepeat: I’ll second that!

      Also, how about making it safer for people to just walk? Or not having everything so spaced out that you have to drive to get to anything?

    35. kracer22 says:

      I think the stock for fake hybrid emblems just went up. Personally, I think only cars that have 40+ empg hw should be on that list.

    36. rbb says:

      @kracer22:
      The estimated highway mileage for a vehicle SHOULD NOT be a criteria for entry into the HOV lanes. It should be strictly the number of occupants in the vehicle.

      See my earlier post above. A vehicle with 3 occupants that gets 16.7 miles to the gallon uses the same amount of fuel on a 50 mile as three hybrids each with a single occupant getting 50 miles to the gallon. And the hybrids cause three times the congestion and pollute more.

    37. RogueSophist says:

      With very few exceptions (states can override), my motorcycle (which gets 70 mpg) is always allowed in HOV lanes.

      However, gas mileage appears not to be a factor. From the DOT website:

      “Motorcycles are permitted by federal law to use HOV lanes, even with only one passenger. The rationale behind allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes is that it is safer to keep two-wheeled vehicles moving than to have them travel in start-and-stop traffic conditions.”

      http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/faq.htm#faq15

      Also, it makes it that much more likely that I’ll get to my destination, you know, alive.

    38. balagon says:

      @synergy, the “regular” Honda Civic isn’t on the list. The other Honda vehicle is the Civic GX, which uses compressed natural gas, not gasoline. Odd that the EPA only includes the 2003-2005 GX models, since the 2006 and 2007 models definitely meet the proposed criteria.

      Cars adapted to use biodiesel might not be on the list because they aren’t dedicated alternative fuel vehicles.

    39. lucidpsyche says:

      @SOhp101:
      Actually, the Honda Civic Hybrid does its best when you’re out on the highway. The Toyota engine is the one that only runs on electric power at slow speeds; the Honda engine runs on electric power when you’re stopped, then uses it to supplement the gas engine while accelerating. If I’m out on the road, I can get around 45-50 mpg in my civic hybrid; if I’m in stop and go traffic, that goes down to about 35-40 mpg.

      @dr88:
      I’m not sure about the Accord, but there are differences on the Civic that can be fairly easily spotted (besides the “hybrid” on the back). On pre-2006 models, the antenna on the hybrid civic was in the middle right above the front windshield. In the 2006+ models, the antenna is in the middle on top of the rear winshield.

    40. Another data point…

      Here in Silicon Valley/Bay Area, the carpool lanes are choked with solo hybrid owners going slower than the flow of traffic.

      While I thought the California incentive program was a good idea at first, I don’t think the EPA needs to get in on the act – and especially not now, when carpool lanes are being stuffed to the gills with holier-than-thou hybrid owners going the speed limit or below.*

      I think the points made about mileage are pretty valid – we have a ULEV 2007 Civic that gets 2x the highway mileage of a Lexus 400h. So the person with $50k to spend on a fancy mileage-poor SUV hybrid should get to use the carpool lane?

      *No one drives the speed limit when traffic allows – in California, most non-rush hour traffic is doing 5-10 m.p.h. above the limit. This used to be true for the carpool lane too, and was a real incentive for me to drive a few blocks out of my way to pick up another rider on my way to work. Now I”m stuck doing the same speed as the schlubs in the other lanes because of a light-footed hyrid owners who is watching their mileage-meter instead of the road.

    41. jacques says:

      What’s with all the Escape Hating? I had an older explorer that I needed for work purposes (multiple people plus dragging a bunch of equipment around). It would get 17-20 mpg on a good tank of gas. I just got the escape hybrid, and my mileage is over 30 now. I’m not demanding to be given special treatment for driving it. Of course, my state has no special options for HOV lanes anyhow, just express lanes that anyone can take. But hell, I’ll take the $2200 tax credit in April, which covers the extra that the hybrid gave me, and take the 10+ mpg over the normal escape.

      Also, I am a slow driver in it. And damn proud to be running in electric mode throughout the city under 30 mpg rather than an asshole accelerating just to get to the next stoplight in 2 blocks.

    42. zolielo says:

      @CaliforniaCajun: I could not agree with you more about foolish hybrid users in the CA HOV lanes.

    43. Trai_Dep says:

      Love, love, love (luv!!) that hybrids are a force in the market and had a successful launch. However, they don’t need extra bennies anymore. HOV access was a good idea to get the pump primed. It’s primed. Let’s move on.

      Also against letting states decide on their own – clear over-reaching of Federal grasp.

      Don’t get me started on the US mfr’s approach of “hybridizing” Hummer-class behemoths to muddy the association between “hybrid” and “efficient”.

    44. balagon says:

      Agree that the market pump is primed for hybrids, but natural gas vehicles are a different issue. There aren’t a lot of them around, in part because there aren’t a lot of compressed natural gas fuelling stations. And there aren’t a lot of CNG stations because there aren’t a lot of CNG vehicles. The extra bennie of being able to drive solo in an HOV lane can help break that logjam by getting more people to drive CNG cars.

    45. gundark says:

      According to the 25% more efficiet rule the Toyota Camery Hybrid should be on that list as well.

      To the folks that have fuel efficient cars that are not hybrids, you do make a good point. Unfortunately a line has to be drawn somewhere. I am gald I am not the one responsible for drawing the line because you are bound to piss off someone.

    46. Onouris says:

      Gas is cool (English Gas, not Gas as in Petrol). Almost same MPG, half the price, win win.

    47. zolielo says:

      Related: I hate when people covert to CNG for a day as to get registered as such then convert back to gasoline. So wrong…

    48. Nerys says:

      “Maybe meter maids could carry around PDAs to check if a license plate is allowed to carry the sticker, and then ticket the driver if they don’t match up. In my area, all the police officers already have PDAs to do quick background checks on people and get messages from dispatchers and so on.”

      Because thats Illegal. Every hear of the 4th amendment. They are not allowed to “just run” your plate without probable cause. (even if they do it anyway)

      Hybrids are a joke. I have a 76 Mercedes 300D that I paid $1200 for and get 30 mpg!!

      I bet if you did the math on the cost to the environment of your prius over 150,000 miles plus the gas it uses and the Cost to the environment for producing my 300D (ZERO since its preowned with more than 150k on the odo) and the cost of gas I use I will bet you that my 300D is better for the environment than a Prius.

      AND I would not be surprised if I am ble to put half a million miles on this car.

      Want to help the environment AND reduces your fuel expenses ? DEMAND PURE EV’s with a 150mile minimum range (ie lowest possible range) for under 15k

      If they can not or will not comply REFUSE to buy a new car and buy a USED car (at least 3 years old otherwise its just like buying new really)

      Eventually if enough people do this they will realize they will lose more money in NO SALES than in lower maintenance EV’s

    49. erica.blog says:

      I would think it is better to carpool no matter how fuel-efficient your car is. The EPA should be trying to push that attitude, instead of settling for less.

    50. balagon says:

      @zolielo: At least in California, a car can only be registered as CNG if it’s only powered by CNG. Converting a car from using gasoline to CNG is possible but it’s a huge amount of work and $$$, and then you have to take the car in to a DMV office and have someone there certify that it *only* uses CNG. I guess it’s possible that someone could do all that, and then convert back to gasoline, but it’s pretty unlikely.

    51. chandler in hollywood says:

      Erica,
      Carpooling is a fantasy that never realized. It is based on the assumption that people that live near each other somehow work near each other. You cannot base law on a bad assumption. It is time for us to get rid of carpool lanes just as we got rid of the 55 mph ceiling. If congress had not caved into the auto makers on the fleet mph requirements, we ALL would be using less gas, but nooooo, SUV’s appeared.