Governments have tried an array of ideas to encourage people to encourage the EV revolution — access to HOV lanes during rush hour, free parking in downtown areas, lower taxes, even free charging in some areas. People like getting special treatment. When California rolled out its HOV sticker program for hybrid cars more than a decade ago, it gave sales of the Toyota Prius a huge boost. Having the sticker on your car became a status symbol. Even people who rarely used the highway wanted one.
In Austria, the speed limit on highways — normally 130 kph — is reduced to 100 kph on days when air quality is poor. Higher speeds lead to higher emissions if there is a gasoline or diesel engine under the hood. That doesn’t apply to electric cars, though, so under the latest speed limit regulations, EV drivers will be allowed to sail along at the higher speed while drivers of conventional cars are forced to throttle back.
Will the plan be effective? Knowing what we know about human nature, absolutely. People dislike being passed by anyone. Ever! Some of you may remember the humorous song Beep Beep from 1958 about a Cadillac driver who is determined to keep a Nash Rambler from passing him. It’s a parody, but it says a lot about our competitive instincts when we get behind the wheel. Will some Austrians take the bait and switch to an EV? Oh, you betcha.
The incentive is of limited value. First of all, it only applies to certain days when an air quality alert is in effect, according to Green Car Reports. Second, it only applies to about 400 kilometers of highway within the country. And it comes with some downside. Traffic engineers know that it’s not speed that kills as much as it speed differences between vehicles. And, of course, EVs need more electrons to go fast than they do to go slower, which means more frequent stops to recharge their batteries.
But that’s just technical stuff. Down deep inside, quite a few Austrians will want to be part of the privileged group, despite their Teutonic preference for logic over emotion. Can you imagine the steam coming out of the ears of drivers plodding along in the slow lane while electric cars go whizzing by? The move is calculated in part to give a boost to the Jaguar I-PACE, which is manufactured by Magna in Austria — a source of local pride. The new incentive policy also encourages cities to provide more free parking for EVs, which currently represent about 2.5% of the new car market in Austria.
This policy is brand new. Austria hasn’t figured out the details yet about how to enforce the differentiated speed limits, and the push for more free parking in cities is a request, not a mandate. But this could lead other governments to consider more creative measures to increase the number of electric cars on the road. Special high speed lanes for electric cars would be nice. Beep Beep!