Besides the potential feeling of environmental superiority, one of the great benefits to having a hybrid in California has been the availability of a magic little sticker set for a vehicle's rear bumper and fender. The "Access OK" tags have allowed its possessors to cruise in the carpool lanes even while driving solo. The special lanes – alternatively known as HOV lanes (High Occupancy Vehicle) or diamond lanes – have proven to be a great time saver on California's clogged freeway system, but not everyone can find a ride-share partner to grant them access. Thus, getting a hybrid with one of the highly prized yellow (or white) decals is like getting yourself a free passenger – without the annoying banter.

As a result of their rarity and ultility, used cars with those decals usually command a premium. Heck, we've even reported on sticker thefts. The problem is that the benefits of those stickers were originally set to run out by 2009. The government intervened and extended those limits through January 1, 2011, but some would like to see them extended further – like through 2016.

Naturally, as more people move towards more efficient vehicles, some think the program should be halted altogether, while others (especially those with stickers themselves) continue to think that hybrids and other "clean" vehicles deserve the added benefit of solo access.You can be sure that this debate will continue right up until the deadline – unless California's legislature steps in to extend the program before then.

[Sources: The Los Angeles Times; California DMV | Image: David McNew/Getty]

Below are the criteria used to issue each sticker according to the California DMV website:
White Clear Air Sticker

A vehicle that meets California's super ultra-low emission vehicle (SULEV) standard for exhaust emissions and the federal inherently low-emission vehicle (ILEV) evaporative emission standard.

A 2004 model-year or older vehicle that meets the California ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) standard for exhaust emissions and the federal ILEV standard.

Yellow Clean Air Sticker

A hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle that meets California's advanced technology partial zero-emission vehicle (AT PZEV) standard for criteria pollutant emissions and has a 45 miles per gallon or greater fuel economy highway rating.

A 2004 model-year or older hybrid vehicle that has a 45 mile per gallon or greater fuel economy highway rating and meets California's ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV), super ultra-low emission vehicle (SULEV), or partial zero-emission vehicle (PZEV) standards.

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