Time to Make Way for Hybrids

Editorial urges federal and state lawmakers to implement policies that foster a more rapid transition to fuel-efficient vehicles.

Published: 31-May-2005

Ordinarily, elected officials should steer clear of endorsing products. But there are certain models of automobiles they should be promoting now.

The president, Congress, governors and state legislatures should be aggressively encouraging Americans to buy -- and automakers to produce -- vehicles that use less fuel and cause less pollution.

In his latest energy proposal, President Bush urged Congress to extend and expand tax credits for people who buy electric-gas hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles.

The president's endorsement of broader incentives is a critical step, but there's much more that can and should be done to entice consumers to shift to vehicles that will help the nation ease its reliance on fossil fuels, especially imports from the volatile and often hostile Middle East.

At least 15 states and three cities (Los Angeles, San Jose and Albuquerque) have adopted some form of incentives for consumers to make the switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a recent survey by USA Today. More than a dozen other states are considering measures.

In some parts of the country, people who buy hybrids are receiving benefits ranging from hefty state-income tax credits or sales-tax exemptions to free parking. These benefits are on top of federal tax deductions of $2,000 this year and $500 next year.

USA Today found that at least six states, including Florida, have passed laws that allow drivers of gas-electric hybrids to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes even if they're the only occupant.

Only two of those states, Virginia and Ohio, have actually opened the car-pooling lanes to hybrids. Florida and the other states are awaiting approval from federal transportation officials, who've objected to the practice in the past.

Congress should clear the way for states to open HOV lanes to hybrids, at least temporarily. The practice can be discontinued if, as federal officials fear, it adds too much traffic to commuter lanes or ends up discouraging car-pooling.

Many Americans, cringing at higher prices at the gas pump, are already considering vehicles with better fuel-efficiency. Sales of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles are down, and dealers are reporting a surge of interest in hybrids, especially as automakers begin introducing new models.

By providing additional incentives, federal and state lawmakers have an opportunity to foster a more rapid transition to fuel-efficient vehicles. They should seize it, for the sake of national security and public health.

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