Driving an electric car is a smart choice for many reasons, including reduced emissions, fuel savings, quick acceleration and a quiet ride. Another major factor in driving electric is unmatched convenience, including fewer service visits and time-saving carpool lane access. My own EV story started with the need to ease a tough commute across the congested southern part of the Bay Area. I looked into getting a carpool lane sticker—it just turned out that the sticker came with a car! I also loved driving electric so much that I moved on from my LEAF to a Tesla.
Why EVs Can Get in the HOV Lane
Many states and provinces, including California, Colorado, Florida, Maryland and British Columbia, provide high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access for EVs and other low-emission vehicles, often using a special sticker or license plate to show that the car is eligible for the HOV lane. Research shows that HOV lane access has been influential in encouraging Californians to purchase EVs, and it’s likely a factor for drivers in other areas as well. Because driving electric cuts greenhouse gas emissions in half or more, policymakers have found that providing HOV lane access for EVs can encourage EV adoption and be a powerful strategy for reducing emissions across North America. One post-purchase study of 3,659 plug-in electric vehicle buyers in California found that HOV lane access was the top purchase reason for 34-57% of respondents.
“It was important to me to get a car with a carpool HOV lane sticker.” – Chevy Volt Driver
Once they get familiar with their quiet, peppy new ride, new EV owners often want to know how to get time-saving carpool lane access. Estimates about carpool lane time savings vary, but most find that HOV lane access is worthwhile. A report on Houston’s HOV lanes found that drivers saved 12-22 minutes per trip, a study in the Seattle area discovered “substantial” travel time savings in carpool lanes and time saved ranged from 5 minutes to 30+ minutes on different Los Angeles–area freeways. If you have a tough commute, getting that sticker can be worth it.
To help save emissions and time, we put together this guide to getting a carpool lane sticker or license plate for electric cars, with information about local HOV lane access opportunities and tips for making the most of the opportunity. To get started, here’s a quick summary of states and provinces that let EVs in the HOV lane or provide high-occupancy toll (HOT) incentives for EVs.
AFV (dedicated), PEV, HEV (restrictions apply)
HOV and HOT Exemption
FCEV, NGV, PEV
Decal and HOV Toll Transponder
HOV and HOT Exemption
HOV: AFV, HEV, PEV
HOT: AFV, PEV
Partial HOV Exemption
10% HOT Discount
Toll Transponder Registration (Greentag)
Fuel economy greater than 45 mpg and meets California Ultra Low Emission Vehicle standards
HOV Exemption and 10% HOT Discount
Sticker and Toll Transponder Registration
FCEV, NGV, PEV
ILEV, Energy-Efficient, and Low Emission Vehicles
Decal or Plate
HEV, NGV, PEV, Propane
AFV (dedicated), HEV (depending on road)
Table adapted from the Alternative Fuels Data Center.
Eligible vehicles may include: alternative fuel vehicle (AFV), battery electric vehicle (BEV), extended range electric vehicle (EREV), fuel cell vehicle (FCV), fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV), natural gas vehicle (NGV), plug-in electric vehicle (PEV, may include all-electric or plug-in hybrid), hybrid electric vehicle (HEV, eg, Prius)
Now that you know whether you can get carpool lane access or toll discounts in your electric car, here are some helpful tips for having a smooth HOV lane experience:
- Permits go with the car, not the owner. If you sell the car, the permit goes with it.
- Qualifying models for HOV lane programs may vary by state; make sure to check your state's official transportation website for local requirements.
- Programs may be open to a limited number of participants, so apply early.
Heads up: In California, white (zero-emission) or green (plug-in hybrid or partial zero emission) clean air vehicle decals are valid until January 1, 2019. As of January 1, 2019, all California EV drivers will need a new red sticker. Those issued a green or white HOV decal after January 1, 2017, will be able to apply for a red sticker here if you drive a qualifying vehicle. If you already have a sticker, you should also get an application for a new sticker by mail.
I hope this information about how to (legally) zoom into the carpool lane in your EV helps you get the most out of your EV. If you don’t have HOV lane access for EVs in your state or province, you can advocate for it with help from the GoEV movement. And don’t forget about all the other great incentives for going electric, like EV rebates, tax breaks and home charging rebates.