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Hybrids' actual mileage is often lower than advertised. Consider Honda's Civic hybrid. The EPA says it gets 48 mpg. But when Consumer Reports tested it in real world driving conditions it got only 36 mpg. Would the Civic hybrid make the cut?
More restrictions also mean more headaches for law enforcement. The more straightforward Virginia law would seem to be easier to enforce, yet even there cops have had to spend more time grabbing carpool violators—not exactly their most important duty. Frustrated officials even turned to the rather desperate move of sticking multiple offenders with $1,000 fines.
California officials hope slapping stickers on "authorized" hybrids will decrease enforcement hassles. But since the new wave of hybrids look identical to non-hybrids, those stickers had better be pretty big. Otherwise, there will be plenty of officers squinting their way through their patrols.
We should step back and reexamine our hybrid love. Hybrids are indeed lovable, but regular cars deserve love, too. It's like those who fixate on the Oscar-winning actor and forget about the other nominees whose performances, though perhaps not quite as great, were still good. Regular cars might not be environmental superstars like hybrids, but many have achieved regular, old stardom.
There is, for example, only about seven miles-per-gallon difference between the hybrid and the regular Civic. Today's cars are about 98 percent cleaner than those built during the 1960s, and dozens of popular car models have earned the PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) designation, which means that compared to most cars they emit at least 90 percent less hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Joe Nordbeck, a U.C. Riverside environmental researcher, has tested PZEVs for years. He says their emission levels are "almost below detection level."
Spreading the love more evenly wouldn't just give credit where credit is due, it would also produce greater environmental progress. Most pollution comes not from new cars, most of which are already extremely clean, but from a small percentage of older, dirtier cars often called "gross" polluters.
The meatiest air quality improvements will come from targeting these gross polluters (perhaps with remote sensing technology), not from convincing new car drivers to become new hybrid car drivers. Even the natural process of fleet turnover, in which drivers trade old cars for new, will clean the air more thoroughly than lavishing hybrid owners with special perks.
And air quality was improving even before hybrids. The EPA notes that during recent decades—though vehicle miles traveled increased 155 percent—pollution has been cut nearly in half. And since we're just now beginning to feel the effects of more stringent air quality standards and better technology, the air we breathe in the future will be even cleaner.
Americans are right to love their hybrids. Let's just hope their political leaders can resist messing with a good thing. And if lawmakers simply cannot stop themselves from doing something to boost hybrid sales, they should consider more productive activities—like hosting an Oscar party.