If there was ever a sign the US is taking the whole concept of electric vehicles seriously, it is the recent news the State of Maryland has mandated free access to high-occupancy lanes for plug-in models.

State governor Martin O’Malley (D) has put his signature to a bill that not only gives EV access to HOV lanes, but crucially allows their use regardless of the number of passengers.

That’s a pretty important distinction – the whole point of HOVs after all is ‘high occupancy’ but it sends a clear message that EVs will be given preferential treatment no matter how full.

The EV sector in Maryland will also benefit from fairly generous tax breaks – namely a $2,000 excise motor vehicle credit to use with an existing – in itself substantial – federal credit of $7,500.

In both cases, the incentives will last only until 2013 however, perhaps suggesting the state authorities have yet to be fully convinced of the potential.

And there’s the EV rub. There’s an enormous amount of time and investment being ploughed into the alternative propulsion sector but the great leap forward is still being approached with a fair degree of caution.

Costs for consumers are prohibitive – hence the lucrative series of incentives being offered by numerous governments worldwide – those governments serious that is about the sector – and who view the rapidly diminishing pool of fossil fuel with some alarm.

Not so long ago, it was not uncommon for vast new oilfields to be discovered or great lakes of natural gas. Now, those mega-finds are becoming harder and harder to source and extract.

And if Americans ever needed a nervy reminder of just how fragile fossil fuel extraction really is, they need only look to their back yard, where the huge oil slick from the still-gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico is heading – and has reached – their way.

In the vein of many developing countries, who move from almost no telecommunications straight to mobile phone technology, perhaps the US will rapidly adopt EV propulsion from its hitherto unshakeable adherence to SUVs.

And the twin attractions of HOV lane access with financial incentives for EV models look undeniably attractive.

GM certainly thinks so. This from its global product operations vice chairman Tom Stephens: “Consumer incentives such as access to HOV lanes and tax credits make a real difference in the market place and can drive consumers to adopt new technologies,” he said, although he couldn’t resist then plugging the Chevrolet Volt – but why not?

“GM commends governor O’Malley and the State of Maryland for recognising the important role these new vehicle technologies and the Chevrolet Volt will play in addressing the energy and climate priorities of the state and our country,” he added.

The US has long been a pioneer in HOV use. Now, a combination of dangling the EV carrot coupled with hefty cash bonuses could catch on. Authorities around the world are starting to grasp the EV nettle firmly by the hand – witness Transport for London’s plans to extend the eligibility criteria for its EV discount to include plug-in models.

The consumer can be persuaded of EV practicality in numerous focus groups but he will need a little more in the way of hard incentives for it to really catch on. Maryland has shown how a start can be made.