If you don’t have this red decal on your car, starting on January 1, 2019, then you can’t use California’s HOV lanes. Kiss green and white decals goodbye! This red sticker is the new decal available to select low-emission vehicles sold after 2016. About 200,000 existing cars with the older white and green decals will no longer be able to legally drive in the HOV lanes without paying for that privilege. That’s right, there are going to be about 200,000 angry car owners in California starting this coming January.
So what happened? The short answer is AB 544. This law passed recently created new rules for HOV access. It modified the state’s decal program originated in 2012, because the HOV lanes got crowded. Legislators felt that the initial incentives needed to get drivers to invest in new low-emission cars were sufficient and those drivers would no longer be grandfathered into the new red decal system. These new decals expire after 2021 — so they’ll be available for only three years.
There’s An Exception
However, some drivers who bought low-emission vehicles in 2017 and 2018 might qualify for the new red decals. Those lucky drivers can reapply and, for the bargain price of $44, they might be eligible for the red sticker. Here are the important fine print points:
- White and green decal holders can get a new sticker only if they buy a new qualifying car, meaning it is a TZEV or ZEV vehicle
- You don’t make too much money. People who earn less than $150,000 for single filers, $204,000 for heads of households, and $300,000 for joint filers will qualify for the new sticker. If you made more than that, well, congratulations on your prosperity but you no longer qualify for state subsidies.
- Used vehicles can qualify for the new stickers too, but only if they have never previously been registered in the Clean Air Decal program.
So how do you know if you make the cut for a new sticker? Qualifying vehicles issued a Green or White HOV decal after January 1, 2017 will be eligible to apply for a Red Clean Air Vehicle Decal later this year. Vehicle owners issued those white or green decals on or after January 1, 2017 will be mailed, to their address on file, a pre-filled CAV decal application form with instructions and a return envelope. The pre-filled applications are expected to be mailed in October 2018. So if you don’t get one by November 1, you may want to check in with DMV.
Pretty much the only way that most current green and white decal holders can get the red decal is by buying a new qualifying car. Here’s where you can find out what crop of cars qualify for the new HOV privileges. But there’s one other catch: if you buy a new car and receive a California Clean Vehicle Rebate — up to $2000 — then you don’t qualify for a red HOV decal. It’s one or the other. You decide.