California state law AB 2628 will go into effect Jan. 1, allowing specified hybrid vehicles to use the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes without the required number of passengers. However, the federal restriction is still in place until further notice.
Though a bill has been introduced to the to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has not yet issued a ruling. A national transportation bill was recently defeated in Congress that would extend this policy to hybrids throughout the country.
Despite the FHA delay, the hybrid exception passed by the Virginia General Assembly is apparently in effect. Virginia hybrid drivers are driving solo in HOV lanes today without getting stopped, according to a report on greencarcongress.com. The Virginia legislation is scheduled to expire in 2006.
The hybrid vehicles that would be eligible in Calif. for HOV access are those that get a combined 45 miles per gallon: the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius.