Skip to Main Content
Contact Us Search
The California Highway Patrol

HOV and HOT Lane Information


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My hybrid has yellow DMV "Clean Air" decals. Are my decals going to expire soon?
A: Yes, the law allowing single-occupant hybrids with yellow “Clean Air” decals to use carpool lanes will not be valid after July 1, 2011. For more information, visit the California Air Resources Board website.
Q: Can I drive by myself in the carpool lane?
A: No, the law generally restricts solo drivers from using carpool lanes. However, there are exceptions to the rule. In very specific circumstances, a single-occupant vehicle may be allowed to use a carpool lane and the following guidelines should help you determine when it is OK. Be aware some carpool lanes have signs posted which specify local rules. Those roadway signs should always be your first guide to determining what is allowed in that carpool lane. A carpool lane is also known as a high-occupancy vehicle lane (or an HOV lane).


General Guidelines

Part-time HOV Lanes:
Some lanes are restricted to carpools only during high-use commute hours. It is legal for single-occupant vehicles to use the HOV lanes if it is outside those HOV hours of operation. Signs will be posted along the HOV lane telling you when the lane is restricted to carpools only. These part-time HOV lanes are most common in northern California.

High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes:
These freeway facilities are also called "Express Lanes" and allow single-occupant vehicles to use the HOT lane by paying a toll electronically (with a FasTrak transponder). Most HOT lanes allow carpools to use the lane for free (local signs will specify this and indicate if carpools must carry a FasTrak transponder). HOT lanes may not be used by vehicles restricted to a 55 MPH speed limit. An example of an HOT lane is the Sunol Grade on Interstate 680 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

HOV Lane Striping:
Do not cross solid, double lines whether they are white or yellow! If you are entering or exiting an HOV lane, you must change lanes only where there is a designated area or where you are crossing a single dashed line (white). In all cases, you must change lanes safely. For details, see the California Vehicle Code, Sections 21655.8 and 21460.


Vehicles with Clean-Air Decals

Hybrid Cars with Yellow Clean-Air Decals:
Starting July 2, 2011, single-occupancy hybrids with yellow decals are NOT allowed in HOV lanes. Yellow decals were issued prior to 2011. More details are available at the Air Resources Board (ARB) website.

Electric and Other Vehicles with White Clean-Air Decals:
If your vehicle has a white decal issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), you CAN drive by yourself in the HOV lane unless prohibited by local signs. Policies vary for other kinds of facilities (bridges, HOT lanes, Express Lanes, toll highways), so watch the local signs or ask the local CHP office. Contact the ARB for information if you are interested in electric, compressed natural gas (CNG), or other clean air vehicles.

Plug-in Hybrids and Others with Green Clean-Air Decals:
Starting in January 2012, a new group of low-emission vehicles can apply to DMV for green clean-air decals. With these decals, drivers can drive solo in HOV lanes (unless locally prohibited). More information is available at ARB's website.


Vehicles without Clean-Air Decals

Solo motorcyclists can use HOV lanes (and most HOT lanes) without a decal unless otherwise posted. Motorcyclists cannot ride on, in, or over solid double lines.

Emergency and Response Vehicles:
Under some conditions, these vehicles can use HOV lanes with single occupants. For details, see the California Vehicle Code, Sections 21655.5 and 23301.5.

Trucks and Cars with Trailers:
Any vehicle towing a trailer, large trucks, and other vehicles subject to a 55 MPH speed limit cannot use an HOV lane regardless of the number of occupants.