The State of California today requested authority from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to allow hybrid vehicles to drive in High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), or carpool, lanes with only a single occupant. State officials, Treasurer Phil Angelides, Caltrans Director Jeff Morales and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Winston Hickox jointly announced the proposal in a teleconference.Eligible vehicles would include Fuel Cell vehicles and gas/electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
"We've worked very hard on a state and national level to encourage the use of hybrid vehicles like the Prius and we hope many more states follow suit by allowing hybrids with one occupant to drive in the HOV lane," said Jim Press, chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. "For any driver stuck in traffic, this would be the equivalent of a 'get out of jail free' card."
The Toyota Prius is the world's first and best-selling hybrid passenger car. The second-generation 2004 Prius goes on sale October 17 and is bigger, more powerful, nearly 90 percent cleaner for smog-forming emissions than the average vehicle, and has EPA fuel estimates of 60 city, 51 highway and 55 combined.
Excellent fuel ratings and emissions levels are achieved thanks to Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. At low speeds, the Prius is powered via an electric motor. At higher speeds, the gasoline engine seamlessly takes over. When drivers slow or brake, the energy is regenerated into the battery so it never needs to be charged or to be plugged in. The response to the Prius has been outstanding and dealers have more than 10,000 orders for the vehicle, which starts at $20,510.
"If this plan is enacted, it would allow Prius owners to drive down the highway knowing they're getting high fuel mileage, helping improve air quality and reducing traffic congestion all at the same time," said Press. "It would be terrific if the HOV lanes became known as Hybrid-Occupancy Vehicle lanes."