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Changes to the HOV lanes for hybrid vehicles in Utah, starting today

(Photo: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News, file, 2015)

WASATCH FRONT – Some lanes of I-15 may feel more crowded, starting today.  Hybrid vehicle owners are no longer allowed to drive in carpool lanes by themselves, simply because they own a hybrid.

This change was not based on any decision from UDOT or UHP.  This actually came from the US Congress.  In 2005, lawmakers wrote an exemption into federal law and it allowed the owners of hybrid vehicles to use HOV lanes, even if no one else was in the car with them.

“There was a sunset clause that ran out, today,” according to UDOT Spokesman John Gleason.

Congress could have extended this exemption, but, Gleason says they failed to do that.  So, if hybrid owners want to use those lanes, they’ll either have to pay to use them or have more than one person in the car.

“Single occupant hybrid drivers are not allowed to use the express lane as they have been in the past.  They’ll be subject to the same rules as normal fuel vehicles would be,” Gleason says.

How will Utah Highway Patrol enforce this?  Will they start writing a lot of tickets right away?  Probably not.

Sergeant Nick Street says, “Our job as law enforcement officers isn’t necessarily always to ‘bring the hammer down.’”

Street can’t guarantee that UHP won’t write tickets, but, for now, each ticket will be handed out on the discretion of the trooper making the stop.  He says there are likely a lot of drivers who didn’t know about the change.

“In a circumstance where somebody has that carbon sticker, still thinks they’re good and didn’t know the law changed, we’re going to err on the side of education,” he says.