Today, I'm going to cover a topic that I think we could all stand to learn a little more about: scammers. I am not referring here to fake Nigerian princes, or even those people who come up to you in parking lots and ask for gas money to visit their dying grandfather, who – if you don't fork it over fast enough – is also a decorated World War II veteran. Instead, I'm talking about the worst kind of scammer: suburban soccer moms.
How, you may ask, are suburban soccer moms scammers? Are they passing out healthy food at Halloween? Taking too many samples at Whole Foods? Lying about the pedigree of their labradoodles?! No, no: it's much worse than all that. They're scamming the DMV so they can drive solo in the carpool lane. And I think we can all agree that any time a fellow citizen gets a benefit everyone else isn't afforded, we should form an angry, militant pitchfork mob, or at least write about it on Jalopnik.
But first, a little background.
We're going to start with an explanation of the carpool lane, for rural readers who might not know of such feats of urban planning. If that includes you, here's the deal: the carpool lane is a lane you can use for carpooling.
The theory here is that this lane moves faster than all the other lanes, which will convince people to carpool, thereby saving the environment so that our grandchildren won't have to wear SCUBA gear when they visit Venice. So far, I'm told this whole carpool lane thing is going very well, much like the War on Drugs, and any day now we'll get word that the environment has officially been saved.
Now, they're very big on carpool lanes in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia (Motto: "More than just the train ride from Terminal A to Terminal C!"), largely because traffic here is so bad. And when I say "bad," I don't mean "there's a stalled Audi Allroad on the highway and you're looking at a fifteen-minute delay." Oh, no. I mean "bad" as in you call your wife when you leave the office at 6 p.m. and tell her to fire up the TV so you can catch the end of Letterman when you get home.
Seriously: it's so bad that no one in Atlanta even bothers to approach you in parking lots for five bucks to visit their dying grandfather, because everyone knows by the time you actually made it to the hospital, he would be dead, and so would the attending physician, the nurses, most species of endangered wildlife, etc.
So the carpool lane is a really big deal here. And that's why it was an even bigger deal a few years ago when our local lawmakers decided to open it up to alternative fuel vehicles, even if they didn't have more than one person in the car. That's right: suddenly any solo-driving weenie in a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt could speed by you in the HOV lane while you were stuck, twiddling your thumbs, thinking about how it would be kind of cool to SCUBA dive through Venice, although you'd probably still get stopped every five minutes by German tourists asking you to take their picture.
And that brings us to the suburban soccer mom scammers.
Of course, suburban soccer moms — and also soccer dads, I won't be picky here — didn't want to trade in their full-size SUVs for electric cars just so they could use the carpool lanes. So instead they managed to convince the DMV that their full-size SUVs are actually alternative fuel vehicles, which granted them "Alternative Fuel" license plates, and — therefore — carpool lane access.
This happened in spite of the fact that these SUVs really use V8 engines that are so large and powerful that they're no longer measured by liters or cubic inches, but rather by the overall number of baby seals that were killed due to their exhaust fumes. The Nissan Armada, for example, uses a 12 Dead Baby Seal V8. And let me tell you: it's a beaut.
So how, you might ask, did the drivers of these gas-guzzling SUVs manage to convince the DMV to give them an alternative fuel license plate? The answer is simple: FlexFuel.
If you don't know what FlexFuel is, you aren't alone. In fact, I read about it all morning, and I'm still not entirely sure what the hell it is, although apparently it involves using ethanol to power your vehicle. Ethanol is made from corn, which basically means these things are driving around with corn kernels propelling them along, rather than baby seal-killing gasoline. How nice!
But there's only one problem: no one actually uses ethanol. Since these vehicles are "flex fuel," they can flex between normal fuel — the kind of gasoline that you and I use to fill up our cars — and ethanol, the eco-friendly corn kind. Now, I would normally give these drivers the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe they use ethanol every once in a while, just to justify their "alternative fuel" designation. But I recently discovered a problem with that theory: there are only two ethanol gas stations in the entire city of Atlanta.
The result is that you might find yourself sitting in traffic in a Toyota Prius — which gets an EPA-rated 50 miles per gallon but does not qualify for an alternative fuel license plate — when you're passed by a solo driver speeding down the carpool lane in a flex-fuel Cadillac Escalade, which gets 14 miles per gallon and does qualify for the alternative fuel license plate.
"Wowza!" you think, as you sit there, twiddling your thumbs in bumper-to-bumper gridlock. "Listen to the hum of that 16 Dead Baby Seal V8."
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.