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Sticker Shock for Owners of Hybrids

Times Staff Writer

They’re big. They’re ugly. They’re offensive. So say owners of the hybrid Toyota Prius -- not about larger gas-guzzlers that hog the road but about the decals the state is handing out that allow hybrid owners to drive solo in carpool lanes.

Prius owners cheered when Congress approved solo driving in carpool lanes last month.

But a growing number of drivers are now protesting because the California Highway Patrol is requiring that four bright yellow decals -- 7 by 3 inches and 5 by 2 inches in size -- be displayed on their cars.

Prius owners are a famously prideful bunch, known to honk approvingly when a fellow Prius driver passes by on the road, and the idea of marking up their cars isn’t sitting well.

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The decals have been the talk of Prius Internet chat rooms, and one owner has set up an online petition protesting the policy.

“I, for one, will not be decoupaging my red car with these yellow stickers!” said Mitchell Rose, a filmmaker from Hollywood who has owned his Prius for more than a year.

“The DMV person who designed the stickers and determined their placement has been watching too much NASCAR,” added Jan Strnad, a Prius owner who lives in Mar Vista. “By the time you have four stickers on your car -- two of which are huge -- you feel as if you should be getting paid for the advertising.”

State officials said the four stickers were needed so that Caltrans workers could easily monitor the new program from various vantage points.

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They pointed out that it could be a lot worse. Federal standards allow identifying stickers to be as large as 12 by 18 inches.

CHP officials said the bright yellow color has a purpose. Hybrids will use yellow tags, while electric and natural gas vehicles -- which are also allowed to drive solo in the carpool lanes -- display three white decals with the same dimensions.

State officials considered allowing decals on windows but ruled it out because they would not be visible if the windows were rolled down.

But critics say the sticker rules are overkill.

“They make the car look like a traveling circus,” said Bob McGraw, a Buena Park sound electrician who started the petition effort and who paid nearly $100 to have a special protectant sprayed on his car so that he doesn’t have to wax it every week.

“It’s not just a car to me,” he said. “It’s a statement. It’s a statement that I take pride in my vehicle.”

Some drivers are using Velcro and other materials to temporarily affix the decals to their cars, with varying degrees of success.

Strnad said he grudgingly stuck them on his Prius after carefully waxing the area for easier removal later.

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The larger ones go on the panels behind the rear wheels and the smaller ones on the front and back bumpers.

“I have to admit this is a perk we’re being given, and it’s not a life or death situation,” said Strnad, a writer. “If you don’t want to put stickers on and accept the perk, it’s not that big of a deal.”

But some question why so many decals are necessary.

“All the HOV lanes are on the left-hand side of the roadways,” said Veronica Bach, a comedy cabaret performer who lives in Hollywood and has owned her burgundy Prius for three weeks. “Why should there even be any stickers on the left-hand side of the car?”

Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) who co-sponsored the bill that allows Prius, Honda Insight and Honda Civic drivers to drive solo in the carpool lanes, said her office had received several phone calls and e-mails about the stickers.

At least one driver said the sticker controversy was much ado about nothing.

“I think the ‘outrage’ over the stickers is more than a little silly,” Prius owner Jon Miller of Altadena said in an e-mail. “The decals are not attractive by any means, but neither are they the end of Western civilization, nor are they a conspiracy to humiliate hybrid owners.”


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