Paying attention California?

Last year California passed a law that would allow certain hybrid cars to use carpool lanes even if the driver had no one else in the car. However, the feds have to OK the move, so, for now, single occupant hybrids don’t get the perk. Now part of the state’s congressional delegation is trying to pry open carpool lanes for hybrids. But wait, as Len pointed out recently, Virginia recently opened up carpool lanes for hybrids. What happened?

A surge in the number of hybrid vehicles has left carpool lanes nearly as congested as the regular lanes they are intended to relieve, a Virginia transportation task force said yesterday. A detailed study of carpool lanes on Interstate 95 found that the number of hybrids more than tripled between last spring and October. State transportation officials fear that the trend will continue as more hybrids enter the market and more commuters take advantage of an exemption allowing them to ride alone in such vehicles … The hybrid exemption is scheduled to expire in June 2006, and the HOV task force of Virginia transportation officials and experts urged again in its second report yesterday that state leaders not extend it.

It made congestion worse, but allowing hybrids in carpool lanes also meant cops had to focus more of their time nabbing violators, not exactly their most important duty:

In 2003, the task force also recommended instituting severe fines and increased police presence to crack down on HOV violators. Fines were raised to as much as $1,000, enforcement was increased and repeat offenders became subject to moving-violation penalties and points on their licenses.

And it’s not like California cops don’t have other things to deal with, especially now:

A steady increase in traffic accidents is straining the California Highway Patrol, the Legislature’s watchdog said Monday, creating a vicious circle: Officers spend more time responding to crashes and less time trying to prevent them, so the number of accidents keeps increasing … The analyst found the officers are handling 52,000 more accidents annually than they were a decade ago, with total crashes now topping 230,000 a year.

The new hybrid models look just like regular cars, which makes law enforcement tougher. Quick, look at this Civic and this Civic. Which one is the hybrid? Oh, but yes, a special sticker is supposed to make it clear to cops which drivers are allowed in the carpool lanes. Better be a big sticker.