Drive Your Hybrid in California Carpool Lanes

In California, the smog and pollution from car emissions has become so bad that the legislature is looking for ways to encourage people to drive hybrid cars. If you drive a hybrid or other qualifying low-emission car, you may be allowed to drive in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the highway, even if only one person is in the car. You need to apply, obtain a decal, and display the decal in your car window. (Warning: the California legislature set a cap on the number of green decals that will be issued, and that number has been reached. Additional applications for green decals will be accepted to create a waiting list, in case additional decals are authorized.)


Determining if Your Car Qualifies for the Clean Air Vehicle (CAV) Decal Program

  1. Buy a vehicle that meets California’s emissions requirements. In general, vehicles that meet the state Transitional Zero Emission Vehicle (TZEV) will qualify. This can include plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) and hydrogen internal combustion engines (hydrogen ICE). In order to qualify as a TZEV, each car must:[1]
    • meet California’s most stringent tailpipe emission standard
    • have zero evaporative emissions
    • have a 15 yr/150,000 mile warranty on the emissions system, and
    • have a 10 yr/150,000 mile warranty on the zero emission energy storage system.
  2. Visit the California Air Resources Board website to find a list of eligible vehicles. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) issues decals to certain model vehicles that satisfy legislative requirements for low pollution emissions. You can check the list on the ARB website to see if your car qualifies.
    • From the main ARB website,, select the link to “Carpool Stickers” under the Popular Pages heading. This will take you to the list of eligible vehicles.
  3. Match your car’s year, make and model to the list of eligible vehicles. The list of eligible cars includes models from 1991 through the present. The list is very specific, first reporting the manufacturer names and then the individual models that qualify. The list further reports the exhaust standard, fuel type, engine size and engine family number for each eligible vehicle.[2]
    • Note the color decal that your car is eligible to receive. When you find your car listed, you will see that each car is marked as either a green decal or a white decal. These are based on the type of exhaust standard the car has. Green or white decals are the same for driving privileges.
  4. Contact the ARB helpline. If you have further questions about any particular vehicle and its eligibility for the decal program, you can call the Air Resources Board helpline.
    • The phone number for the ARB helpline is (800) 242-4450.

Applying for a CAV Decal

  1. Obtain an application form online or at a DMV office. You can pick up an application form in person at any California DMV office. Alternatively, you can download a copy of the form from the website.[3]
    • From the main DMV website, first select the link to Vehicle Registration, and then to Vehicle Registration Forms, and then find the Application for Clean Air Vehicle Decals.
    • If you have more than one qualifying vehicle, you will need a separate application form for each one.
  2. Provide the identifying information about the vehicle. You will need to fill in the car’s license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN) and year, make and model.[4]
  3. Provide your personal information. If more than one person jointly owns the vehicle, both people can apply on the one application form. For each owner of the vehicle, you will be asked to provide the following information:[4]
    • Full name, as it appears on the car’s title and registration
    • Driver’s license number
    • Residence or business address
    • Mailing address, if different from residence or business address
  4. Mark your selections for the decal you desire. Section 2 of the application form contains three columns. In each column, you are required to mark at least one box to indicate your selection.[4]
    • In the first column, mark whether this application is for a new decal, a transfer, an information correction or update, or a replacement.
    • In the second column, you are to select either a white decal or a green decal. This choice is decided by the type of exhaust standard that your car has. If you have any questions about this, you can check the “Carpool Stickers” eligibility list from the ARB website. That list identifies the exhaust standard for each car.
    • In the third column, you will select the white or green decal, based on your car’s motive power. The options are electric, hydrogen fuel cell, liquefied petroleum gas, compressed natural gas, plug-in hybrid, or a conversion to alternate fuel.
  5. Complete Section 3 if you have a qualifying enhanced clean air vehicle. This section is specifically for owners of Enhanced AT PZEVs or TZEVs, and only if you are seeking a replacement decal for a previous car that has been declared a total loss or unrepairable. If this applies to you, you will provide the old vehicle’s license plate, VIN, year, make and model.[4]
  6. Complete Sections 4 and 5 only if you are applying for replacement decals. You will need to provide information about the original decals. In particular, you will have to select from a list the reason for the replacement (stolen, lost, damaged, or not received from a prior owner), and include a written statement of facts to explain the situation.[4]
  7. Sign the application. As a final step, you must print and sign your name. You are also asked to provide the date of the application and a daytime telephone number where you can be reached in case the DMV has any questions.[4]
  8. Submit the application by mail or in person. If you choose to submit the application in person, you can take it to any DMV office. Alternatively, you can mail it to DMV, Special Processing Unit - MS D238, P.O. Box 932345, Sacramento, CA 94232-3450.[4]
    • There is a fee of $8 that must accompany the application. If you are submitting your application by mail, you should include a check made payable to the California DMV.
    • If you are applying for a green decal, do not include the $8 fee with your application. The state has reached the authorized limit for green decals. If the legislature extends that limit, then additional green decals will be issued.

Displaying and Using your CAV Decal

  1. Await delivery of your CAV decal. Under normal circumstances, your CAV decal should arrive within about 30 days after you submit your application. If your decal does not arrive within that time, you may call the DMV office to check on the status of your application.
    • The original legislation put a limit on the number of green decals that would be awarded. That number has been extended, but the current cap has been exceeded. You may apply, if you wish, but applications for green decals are being held until more decals become available.[5]
  2. Display the CAV decal on your car. When you receive your decal, you will also receive a placement guide to direct you where to place the decal on your car. You are supposed to place one decal on each rear quarter panel of the car, behind each rear wheel.[5]
  3. Drive in the HOV lane. With your decals properly affixed to the car, you are eligible to drive in the California HOV lanes, regardless of the number of passengers in the car.
  4. Register also for Fastrack automatic toll payment in the San Francisco area. If you will be driving in certain areas of San Francisco, you will also need to have a Fastrack transponder in order to drive in express lanes.


  • As of June 2007, all 85,000 green stickers have been issued by the DMV, and only replacement stickers will be issued, unless the legislature votes to extend the limit.

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