Electric Cars Can Use the HOV Lane: Here’s Why


Electric Cars Can Use the HOV Lane

Many states are incentivizing motorists to go green by allowing electric cars to use the HOV lane. By encouraging drivers to buy electric vehicles, many states have hoped to reduce their traffic along with greenhouse gas emissions, and the tactic seems to be working. Electric cars are shown to produce nearly half of the greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gas or diesel-powered cars produce.

Allowing electric cars to use the HOV lane will encourage drivers to adopt more climate-friendly vehicles. States believe that this incentive has helped significantly grow hybrid and electric vehicles across the country. This has had some positive effects on both traffic and air pollution. 

Whether you live in an urban or rural area, an electric car can significantly improve your commute by giving you access to the carpool lane. The wide-ranging benefits of electric cars make them an outstanding choice to consider when purchasing your next vehicle. 

While my home island of Maui doesn’t have HOV lanes due to the lack of highways, Oahu just recently allowed EVs to join the HOV lane. Check with your city or county to see if electric vehicles can use the HOV lane, most likely they are allowed.

Keep reading for more on why electric cars can use the HOV lane.

The Case for Electric Vehicles Using the HOV Lane

The HOV lane is supposed to be for high occupancy vehicles. So why is it that countless one-passenger cars zoomed past you, using the HOV lane, as you sat in traffic? Unless they were driving in the HOV lane illegally, they were electric vehicles. And driving one of these in many states means you can legally use the HOV lane. 

Each year more and more drivers are making the switch to electric cars for many reasons. Electric cars are energy efficient, better for the environment, and provide a quieter driving experience. In addition to these benefits, drivers can now benefit from driving in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) to the list.

High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes came onto the scene in the 1970s as a way for cities to manage fuel consumption and decrease the traffic congestion that was starting to plague cities and suburbs in urban areas around the country. 

As more Americans were commuting across town to work, the traffic became increasingly worse. In the 1990s, the U.S. federal government encouraged many states worldwide to improve their air quality by building additional HOV lanes. States were allotted federal dollars to help construct these more expansive and efficient highways. 

Over time, cities began to see the benefits of installing HOV lanes on their highways. In general, two to three people were carpooling to and from work, which resulted in fewer people driving their cars. This, in turn, caused a significant decrease in traffic congestion. 

While the effects on traffic were notable, the benefits pertained to emissions reduction, and decreasing air pollution was unknown. 

While there may have been some improvement in these areas, it has been clear that cities around the country need to do more if they want to significantly reduce their vehicle emissions and have a lasting impact on their air quality. Some cities and states take this seriously, but there are plenty that ignores these recommendations.

Electric cars produce zero direct emissions, meaning they do not emit smog-forming pollutants or greenhouse gases through their tailpipes. This makes them an environmentally friendly alternative to gas or diesel-powered vehicles, contributing significantly to a city’s air pollution levels. 

With the increased popularity of electric cars and a rise in government mandates to produce them in the 1990s and 2000s, states began to see another way to reduce their pollution and vehicle emissions. 

By allowing electric cars to use the HOV or carpool lanes, consumers would hopefully be incentivized to purchase alternative fuel vehicles to cut down on their commute times. 

According to some studies, this practice has been successful in encouraging consumers to go green. One 2015 study found that in purchasers of electric cars in California cities, a significant percentage of people (at times more than 50%) reported that access to the HOV lane was their primary motivation in purchasing the electric vehicle

If you’ve ever driven on one of California’s legendary highways, the amount of electric cars is shocking. Especially when you think of how much they cost. Knowing the incentives behind purchasing an electric vehicle makes more sense since one is getting to use the HOV lane and bypass some of the equally legendary traffic.

Purchasing trends suggest that consumers are more motivated to go green, knowing that the HOV lane usage is an included benefit. As cities become more populated and more people move away from city centers, the electric car will be an optimal choice for many drivers hoping to reduce their commute and help the planet.

Rules for How and Where Electric Cars Can Use the HOV Lane

HOV or carpool lanes have not been constructed in every state across the U.S. Rather, these lanes are focused on urban and suburban areas that need help reducing their traffic and air pollution caused by a high level of vehicle usage. 

As of 2020, there are only twenty states that utilize HOV lanes on their highways. In addition to this, there are only fourteen states that allow electric cars to access these HOV lanes. 

The rules for allowing electric cars to use the HOV lane are not cut and dry across every state. As the number of electric car drivers increased across several states, local governments started to reach their predicted hybrid and electric vehicle sales numbers rather quickly. 

Some rules and regulations needed to be instituted to prevent overcrowding in the states’ HOV lanes. Now electric car drivers who live in states that allow them to use the HOV lane must first obtain certain documentation to enjoy the benefits of these lanes. 

This typically involves an extra step in registration and later fashioning an HOV sticker to your car or obtaining a specific HOV license plate.

To better understand the rules and regulations behind HOV usage across different states, you can find a comprehensive list of the rules that each state mandates for electric cars to use the HOV lane. 

The vehicle types covered in the table below are Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFV), Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEV), Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV), Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV), Natural Gas Vehicles (NGV), and Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEV).

StateIdentification MethodVehicle Type
ArizonaLicense PlateAFV, PEV, HEV
CaliforniaDecalFCEV, NGV, PEV
ColoradoDecalHEV
FloridaAnnual decalHEV, ILEV
GeorgiaLicense PlateAFV, HEV, PEV
HawaiiLicense PlatePEV
MarylandDecalPEV
New JerseyNoneHEV
New YorkDecalHEV, PEV
North CarolinaNoneFCEV, NGV, PEV
TennesseeDecalILEV
UtahDecal or License PlateHEV, NGV, PEV, Propane
VirginiaLicense PlateAFV, HEV (depending on the road)
Source: Table adapted from the U.S. Department of Energy

The Verdict on EVs Using the HOV Lane

The benefits of adding HOV lanes to our nation’s highways were immediately felt by the twenty U.S. states that opted to construct them. But to make a lasting impact on the climate, directly lower air pollution, and reduce urban traffic levels even further, citizens and governments knew that they needed to do more. 

As consumers started to gain interest in the electric vehicle for fuel efficiency and zero direct emissions, governments began to take note. By allowing electric vehicles to use the HOV lane, states have been able to increase the sales of electric cars and, in turn, make a significant impact on their citywide traffic flow. 

Drivers have also been able to shorten their commute times and contribute to healthier air quality. Ultimately, the decision to allow electric vehicles to drive in the HOV lane has been a win-win for both states and citizens. In time, it will continue to improve the quality of life in our country’s urban areas. 

Jordan Fromholz

I'm an electric car owner, enthusiast, and founder of the Plugin Report. As a Chemical Engineer with over 14-years in the energy industry, I've made my passions be renewable energy, batteries, and electric cars. My family lives on Maui where we drive our 2017 Nissan Leaf and share everything there is to know about electric cars.

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