September/October 1998

Hobbyists and SEMA Confront Exhaust Noise Enforcement Controversy

Are the police hassling you about your vehicle's modified exhaust system? This problem appears to be on the rise in a number of states around the country. For the past year, SEMA has sought to address complaints that police officers are unfairly citing drivers for alleged violations of noise standards. Amazingly enough, many of these citations are being issued to vehicles which actually comply with the existing regulations.

In California, for instance, there is widespread evidence that police are harassing motorists driving aftermarket-equipped vehicles and issuing improper citations based on the California noise standard. The roots of the problem are that the regulations are confusing, and the police are enforcing a standard other than what's actually in the regulations. The regulations clearly establish a noise standard of 95 decibels for passenger cars and light trucks, however, the criteria used by the police during enforcement stops have no tie to the 95-decibel standard and are entirely subjective. The California Highway Patrol's (CHP) Enforcement Manual allows a vehicle to be cited if "the exhaust noise of a vehicle is clearly audible above the normal mechanical and operational noise of the vehicle, and the vehicle is significantly louder than other similar vehicles operating under similar conditions, the muffler may be presumed inadequate."

This subjective standard results in noise citations being issued despite the fact that vehicles may actually meet California's standard. The end result is not fair, reliable or predictable for motorists and has led to continuous complaints both from aftermarket manufacturers and consumers.

In an effort to resolve the California problem, SEMA VP of Government Affairs Chris Kersting recently met with the CHP to propose a plan that would encourage exhaust equipment manufacturers and the California police each to do their respective parts to ensure that exhaust systems meet the 95-decibel limit and that the 95-decibel limit is, in fact, the enforcement standard used by police. Details of the plan are being worked out. SEMA hopes to introduce the approach proposed in California in other jurisdictions as well.

Texas 'Wheels to Work' Program Looms as Alternative to Scrappage

SEMA staff recently joined local business and community leaders in Texas to participate in a planning meeting for the implementation of a "Wheels to Work" program in Houston. Enacted as a legislative initiative in 1997, "Wheels to Work" is a public/private partnership that makes used cars available to individuals leaving the welfare roles whose barrier to employment is transportation to and from the workplace. The program is administered by the Texas Workforce Commission and has already been implemented in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

SEMA participated in the planning meeting at the request of the Partnership for Texas Air Care, an organization founded in 1995 to help improve air quality. "SEMA is always looking for opportunities to assist efforts that provide alternatives to motor vehicle scrappage programs," said SEMA VP of Government Affairs Chris Kersting. "The Wheels to Work program appears to not only fulfill an important social objective but can be combined with 'vehicle upgrade' emissions credit programs to present a very effective alternative to vehicle scrappage."

SEMA has learned that legislation is being currently drafted in the Texas legislature for introduction in the 1999 session that seeks to reinstitute scrappage as a means to generate emissions reduction credits. SEMA is currently working with the 41 SAN-member clubs in Texas to fight off such ill-conceived legislation. As SAN contact Andre Jacobs of the Alamo AMC Club pointed out: "They [the legislature] have tried this before. However, most pollution comes from heavy industry. You can't logically compare antique car emissions to what a factory or power plant produces."

SEMA Recognizes Car Club Achievements on Web Site

In a move to recognize car clubs and their representatives for outstanding efforts concerning legislative/regulatory battles, SEMA has instituted a "SEMA Honors" segment on its web site (http://www.sema.org/). The segment can be found in the Consumer/Enthusiast section.

SEMA Director of State Relations Steve McDonald commented, "In the course of our work to protect and advance the legislative agenda of vehicle enthusiasts and the aftermarket, we have found that an informed and active grassroots constituency is a potent and reliable political force. We commend the clubs and individuals we've chosen to honor on the web site and look forward to continuing this beneficial relationship as we approach the next legislative session."

Awareness and Organization Key in Maintaining the Four-Wheel-Drive Sport

Recently, SEMA Action Network (SAN) staff visited with representatives of the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO). Newsletter Editor Jim Krebs and Executive Director Jerry Abboud discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the 4x4 community, as well as the legislative and regulatory obstacles it faces in Colorado and nationwide.

The off-road community is working to overcome a number of obstacles. Most evident is the perception that off-road enthusiasts destroy the environment. As Krebs and Abboud pointed out, the term "off-road" is actually a misnomer. Responsible hobbyists stay on existing roads and trails, minimizing environmental damage. They also regularly clean up and repair trails to decrease pollution and erosion. Still, Krebs pointed out the off-road community does need to police itself to improve its image. "One set of tire tracks going out across an otherwise pristine meadow can destroy [the off-road community's] efforts at changing perceptions," Krebs cautioned.

Another issue concerning the off-road community is land closures. This can be a double-edged sword for 4x4 enthusiasts because state and federal authorities are rapidly closing trails due to both over and underuse. Krebs and Abboud assert that overuse claims are overstated. Besides big regional events, heavy vehicle traffic on a given trail on any given weekend is unlikely, even in Colorado where there is a large off-road community. Closing "underused" trails presupposes that these trails are not used at all and that authorities have a clear standard for what is too much or too little use.

Despite the obstacles, there is good news to report about the four-wheel-drive community. In Colorado and nationwide, 4x4 associations work to educate, promote and organize enthusiasts to fight for the future of their sport. Clubs perform trail maintenance and clean up, participate in youth and charity work and volunteer transportation services during foul weather conditions. As a practical matter, the nationwide off-road community is also becoming a formidable political force. SAN knows firsthand how our alerts are immediately sent across the country via 4x4 club newsletters, web sites and internet bulletin boards. Comments from California in response to a Maryland proposed regulation are not unusual in this situation.

The national 4x4 community will continue to work hard on behalf of its sport and SAN intends to lend assistance. SEMA Director of Outreach and Public Affairs Brian Caudill commented, "It is gratifying to see the hard work that off-road clubs and associations are putting into preserving their sport. Organization and effort are the keys to their long-term success."

SEMA Action Network at NSRA Nationals

In August, SEMA Action Network (SAN) made its first appearance at the National Street Rod Association Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. More than 13,800 street rods were entered in the meet and many other enthusiasts gathered to swap stories, buy those all-important parts and ogle the collection of pre-1949 rods.

SAN Director Brian Caudill worked the SEMA booth in the convention hall, urging street rodders to get themselves and their clubs politically active and aware by joining SAN. Caudill preached the gospel according to SAN, handed out SEMA's latest hobbyist brochure, "Fighting Unfair Inoperable Vehicle Laws: A Guide to Working with Your State and Local Government" (copies available through SEMA's Washington, D.C., office), and worked to sign up as many clubs as possible. Prospective SAN club members hail from all across the country and include Ty-Rods Car Club based in Massachusetts; Canon Car Club of Canon, Colorado; E-Z Rodders of west Tennessee; and the Classic Legends Club of Brighton, Michigan.

Skip Readio of the Ty-Rods Car Club summed up the response prospective clubs had to the SAN program: "I am impressed with what SEMA Action Network is trying to accomplish in the States and that [SAN is] actually out urging people to become active in support of their hobby. After all, we're all in this together."

'Driving Force' Offers Exposure for Clubs

The SEMA Action Network would like to recognize and publicize the events that our State Contact Clubs regularly put on and participate in. This will tell us about club, council and association activities and will give fellow member clubs the opportunity to connect with each other. SAN is also interested in providing materials, and when possible, sending representatives to these events.

Whether your organization is a registry or a national, regional or local club, SAN would like to know what you are up to. Please send information regarding upcoming meetings, shows, rod runs and charity events to SEMA Washington Office, 1317 F St., NW, Ste. 500, Washington, D.C. 20004. If we're not already on it, put us on your mailing list!

SEMA Seeks Clarification of California Insurance Regulation

The California Department of Insurance recently issued new regulations that would allow insurers to cancel policies or refuse renewal if an insured vehicle is modified in violation of the Vehicle Code for the purpose of increasing speed or acceleration capabilities. SEMA has been in touch with the insurance commissioner's office to clarify what modifications are at issue and to ensure that vehicles equipped with street-legal aftermarket equipment are not subject to the regulation. While the department states that many uncertainties remain concerning the program, it has committed to work with SEMA to ensure that the regulation does not lead to unfair treatment of enthusiasts.