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Hybrid Vehicles Overcrowd HOV Lanes

High gasoline prices and a concern for the environment are boosting sales of gas-electric hybrid vehicles. But the cars have become so popular they are now slowing down commuter carpool lanes around Washington, D.C. Eric Niiler reports.

In Virginia, hybrid owners get to drive in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, even if they don't meet the normal minimum of three or more people per car.

"Yes it may be true I'm in my car all by myself, but I'm spewing out a lot less pollutants than the SUVs and some of the cars are," says Dick Cole of Chantilly, Va., who drives a Honda Civic hybrid to his job at the Pentagon. The benefit of driving in the HOV lane cuts his commute by hours each day.

But hybrids are crowding the HOV lanes in Virginia, and that has some commuters seething. "You have these [hybrid] cars in there, and the HOV lanes are actually slower than the regular lanes," says Sil Carlson, who works at the Smithsonian.

Federal transportation officials worry that congestion caused by hybrids is defeating the purpose of the HOV lanes. They want Virginia to kick them out. California was set to allow the hybrids to use HOV lanes this month, but that decision has been delayed. Now it may be up to Congress to resolve the issue.

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Eric Niiler
Eric Niiler reports for NPR's national desk. His work can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and other NPR newsmagazines. Before moving to his current post, Niiler was a reporter for NPR's Day to Day program, and also filed pieces for NPR's national and science desks.