Calif. law would give hybrid cars easier commute in carpool lanes


SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Owners of hybrid cars could use freeway carpool lanes, even with a single driver during rush hour, under legislation approved yesterday by the California Assembly and supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite near-certain approval in California, the new law would not take effect unless the Bush administration granted permission to the state. Federal transportation officials are pushing their own plan that could open the door for hybrid cars in carpool lanes.

Despite complaints that commuter lanes have become clogged, the California legislation is designed to boost sales of hybrid cars by rewarding drivers with easier commutes. California has more freeway miles, more cars, more hybrid vehicles and more carpool lanes than any other state.

"This is a win, win, win - cleaning up our air, reducing dependence on foreign oil and saving money at the pump," said Democratic Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, author of the measure.

Estimates of the number of hybrid cars in California vary from 20,000 to 50,000. The Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius are the biggest sellers.

Pavley's bill requires hybrid cars made after 2005 to have strict new anti-smog standards and achieve at least 45 mpg in order to use carpool lanes. Hybrid cars made before 2005 also must have 45 mpg but would not be subject to the newer smog standards.

The legislation also caps the number of hybrid cars allowed in carpool lanes to 75,000 statewide. Drivers would have to get a special decal from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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