Why can't the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight get a carpool lane sticker?

This page last reviewed June 3, 2004

Answer:  The hybrid vehicles currently offered for sale in California do not meet the requirements of AB71, the bill that allows some single-occupant vehicles to use the state's high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, lists eligible vehicles as those that have been certified to both the ARBís Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV) standard or better, AND the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPA) Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) standard. While the ARBís SULEV standard encompasses many vehicles that run on gasoline, the U.S. EPAís ILEV standard effectively eliminates any gasoline vehicle from eligibility under AB71. The stringent ILEV standard limits AB71ís eligibility for single-occupant use of the state's 1,159 miles of HOV lanes to electric vehicles or those that run on compressed natural gas or liquid petroleum gas (propane).

Eligible vehicle owners must first obtain an identification sticker from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. The provisions of AB 71 are effective until December 31, 2007. Following this date, vehicles that meet both SULEV and ILEV standards will not be permitted in the HOV lanes without meeting the minimum posted occupancy requirement.

While the hybrid vehicles currently offered in California are very clean vehicles, they do fall short of the EVs and alternative fuel vehicles in several key areas and are not eligible for single occupant HOV lane use. Even when counting power plant emissions, ZEVs offer significant reductions over hybrids and these emission rates improve over time due to the fact that hybrids produce more emissions as they age. In addition, gasoline powered vehicles have large emissions contributions due to the "upstream" pollution of refineries and fuel distribution.

The SULEV standards, like all ARB requirements, are performance based. That is, they are fuel and technology neutral with alternative fuels receiving no special advantage over gasoline cars Ė every vehicle, no matter what its fuel, must meet the same emissions standards. This approach has resulted in gasoline vehicles achieving very low emissions levels Ė levels thought to be impossible just a few years ago.

SULEV vehicles also meeting the U.S. EPA ILEV standard can best be described as the "cleanest of the clean," being surpassed only by zero emission pure electric vehicles. In other words, while SULEVs have very low tailpipe emissions, only those vehicles meeting the additional requirements of the ILEV standard offer significant additional lifetime emission reductions and are eligible for the incentive offered by AB 71.

For addition information about qualifying vehicles please contact the ARB Motor Vehicle Information Hotline at (800) 242-4450.