For six years, California gave owners of hybrid cars the keys to the fast lane: permission to drive alone among carpoolers.

Now hybrids are about to lose the special privilege that was intended as a reward for saving gas and protecting the environment. The vehicles are no longer novel, and transportation officials want to make way for a new generation of even cleaner cars.

Starting Friday, 85,000 hybrid owners have to get back in line with the gas guzzlers, the truckers and everyone else or face steep fines.

For some Southern California road warriors, using the HOV lane can cut their commuting time in half, but it's an advantage normally reserved for cars carrying at least two or three people.

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