Starting January 1st, all white and green carpool lane stickers are expiring in California. Here’s how this will affect you.

The new law will affect 220,000 California drivers. Will you be affected?

If you’ve driven in and around California metro areas, from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, you know that traffic is a massive problem. Transportation planners have spent a lot of time building HOV (high-occupancy vehicle), or carpool, lanes to help reward folks who carry multiple passengers, have electric vehicles, or plug-in hybrids. This entire policy is changing starting on January 1st, 2019, and here’s how it could affect you.

Zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids bought before 2017 will no longer have access to carpool lanes.

In 1999, zero-emission vehicles were first allowed to use HOV lanes with an original expiration date of 2008. This was to encourage the purchase of environmentally-friendly vehicles. The original expiration date was extended multiple times until they decided January 1st, 2019 would be the final expiration date for the program and thus the green decals. 

Zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids bought before 2017 will also no longer have access to carpool lanes.

Why are the green and white HOV lane stickers expiring?

Although environmentally-friendly, the state says tens of thousands of these solo-passenger cars were clogging up the carpool lane, slowing the driving pace in the fast lane to a crawl. Solo drivers aside, the other main problem critics say the new rules fail to address, is a large number of cheaters who don’t fear the $491 ticket for an HOV-lane violation. According to Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the number of cheaters is nearly 40% on some freeways.

The new rules come courtesy of the state Legislature and the California Air Resources Board in partnership with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Not only do they strip current HOV privileges, but also render those same drivers ineligible to extend their perk, except at a high cost. Drivers who purchase or lease a newer, clean vehicle, such as the 2019 Chevy Volt, will be eligible to receive one of the new, coveted red stickers - the primary stickers with the HOV green light.

How do you keep your carpool lane access in 2019 and beyond?

Red decals are in, and the California DMV has been issuing red decals this past year. To see if you qualify for a red decal you can check the list of every eligible car make and modelIf, however, you purchased or leased your vehicle before January 2017, your vehicle, unfortunately, is not eligible for a red sticker. If you bought your sticker after January 2017, you are eligible to re-apply for a red sticker, no new car needed. The state says you just need to re-apply as soon as possible, so you don't lose your HOV rights.

Critics say the new rules marginalize lower-income California drivers, favoring those with the means to purchase an expensive newer electric vehicle. Others with older low or n0-emission vehicles say they’re still minimizing their carbon footprint and should be able to renew the perk.

How long are the new red stickers valid for in California?

The change is part of a years-long strategy to clear out traffic in the HOV lanes, so they move faster for those they were really meant to serve: carpools and mass transit.

To apply for a new red sticker, you can visit the California Air Resources Board Clean Air Decal Fact Sheet. If you need to visit the DMV to upgrade your sticker, or take care of other DMV matters, we can help you get an express DMV appointment or even have someone stand-in line on your behalf.

Stickers issued after Jan. 1 2019 will be valid until Jan. 1 of the fourth year after the year in which it was issued. Decals issued on January 1 and Dec. 31 in 2019, for instance, both would expire on Jan. 1, 2023.

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