2001: SEMA Action Network Year in Review
Another Busy Year!
The SEMA Action Network (SAN) will be ending the year 2001 with a series of successful legislative and regulatory accomplishments. This year we faced issues ranging from emissions test exemptions and scrappage laws to vehicle equipment regulations. Most notably, SAN helped push through new hobbyist-friendly laws in Utah, Texas, Missouri and California. We also maintained a forceful presence on the Federal level.
Our successes in 2001 demonstrate the benefits of the partnership between America's automobile hobbyist community and the specialty equipment market. Here are a few of our successes:
Alabama Inoperable Vehicles: SAN organizations, including the Alabama Vehicle Club Council and the Shelby County Wheels of Time, helped to defeat an unfair inoperable-vehicle bill aimed at removing inoperable vehicles from private property if they were deemed a "nuisance" and had been in plain view for more than 30 days. Special thanks to Alabama State Representative Gerald Dial for helping us defeat this bill. California Exhaust Noise: California enacted SEMA-sponsored legislation to compel law enforcement officials to tie exhaust system noise citations to a 95-decibel limit. The new law also clarifies that aftermarket modified exhaust systems are legal if they comply with the standard, and allows courts to dismiss citations if an exhaust system complies with the 95-decibel limit and the owner had reasonable grounds to believe that the system was in good working order. SEMA is now working with the California Highway Patrol and others to find a way to institute an exhaust noise testing program. Many thanks to the Beach Cities Mustang Club and the other SAN members that fought so hard to get this bill passed.
California Emissions Exemption: Legislation to repeal California's current rolling emissions test exemption for vehicles 30-years old and older died after an enthusiast-led revolt caught the attention of state legislators and regulators. We are particularly indebted to the Association of California Car Clubs, the Early Ford V-8 Club of America, Baldy View Region, Southern California Chrysler 300 Group, and the Ventura County Chevy Club for helping kill this legislation. Existing law in California exempts all pre-1974 vehicles from emissions testing until 2003. After 2003, vehicles 30-years old and older will be exempt from emissions testing.
California Scrappage (Pre-1970): Under pressure from environmental groups and SAN members such as the IV Ever Low Club, Avanti Owners Club, Southern California Gathering of Goats, Salinas Valley Classic Chevy Club, Riviera Owners Club, Buick GS Owners Club, Austin-Healey Club of Northern California and the Pomona Valley Corvette Association, California lawmakers abandoned a plan that would have allowed carmakers to crush pre-1970 vehicles in exchange for credits toward their obligations under the state1s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. Under the abandoned bill, owners that agreed to have their vehicle crushed would have received a voucher of at least $2,500 toward the purchase of a new vehicle.
Georgia Raised Vehicles: SEMA and SAN members, including the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, helped defeat a bill that sought to ban any vehicle with a suspension that had been altered to raise the vehicle more than two inches above factory specifications. Had the bill passed, owners of modified rigs would have been forced to undergo the substantial expense of reinstalling original components.
Georgia Nitrous Oxide: It is still legal to install and use nitrous oxide systems in Georgia. SEMA companies and SAN members including the North Georgia Mopar Club killed a bill that would have prohibited vehicles from being equipped with a nitrous oxide system, unless the line feeding the nitrous to the engine was disconnected.
Missouri Emissions Exemption: Legislation to exempt registered "historic" vehicles from the state's emissions inspection requirements was signed into law. Previous Missouri law only exempted vehicles manufactured prior to the 1971 model year from emissions inspection. Missouri law defines historic vehicles as those more than 25-years old, owned as a collector's item and driven no more than 1,000 miles per year. SEMA would like to note the efforts of the American Roadhouse Car Club, the Pontiac-Oakland Club, Archway Chapter, Gateway GTO Club and the Gateway Fiero Club for getting this legislation signed into law.
Oregon Raised Vehicles: Thanks to intense opposition from SAN members such as the Pacific-Northwest 4 Wheel Drive Association, 4-Runners of Klamath Falls, Mud Muckers of Tillamook and the Oregon Bush Hackers, a bill that would have banned vehicles with bumpers raised more than three inches above stock is dead. The legislation would have required all vehicles not in compliance to be altered at the owner's expense.
Texas Repair and Upgrade: The Texas Vehicle Club Council, the North Texas Corvair Association, Texas Cadillac-LaSalle Club and other Texas enthusiasts scored a win in the war against scrappage programs when Governor Rick Perry signed H.B. 2134 into law. Under the new law, Texas will help car owners wishing to VOLUNTARILY repair or upgrade their vehicles to comply with state emissions requirements. Vehicles qualifying for the program must have failed an emissions test, be functionally operational and registered in a county implementing the program for at least two years. Vehicles registered as classic and those not regularly used for transportation are exempt from the new program. SEMA is optimistic that the upgrade option will steer motorists away from the state's vehicle scrappage program.
Utah Raised Vehicles: The Utah 4 Wheel Drive Association developed and helped shepherd through the legislature a new law allowing useful vehicle suspension and body lift alterations for both on- and off-highway use. The modifications are popular and often necessary for trail-riding activities where increased clearance, larger tires and improved suspension are essential. The law also addresses the practical needs of Utah, where weather conditions and terrain often require vehicle alterations to ensure reliable everyday transportation.
West Virginia Inoperable Vehicles: SEMA and West Virginia SAN members including the Vaperz Car Club helped amend a bill that would have allowed authorities to remove "junk" vehicles from private property if they were in plain view and not registered as historic. The amended bill, now law, allows owners to keep parts and project cars on private property.
State Legislative 'Quick Fixes'
Sometimes, when fairness and the facts are on our side, the SEMA government relations team can get things done in a quick and relatively easy manner. The following examples are what we consider pro-hobbyist "quick fixes." Periodically, common sense does win out!
Arkansas Light Covers: SEMA successfully amended a bill which sought to ban installation and use of headlamp covers and coatings that reduce light intensity. SEMA's amendments permit covers, provided that they are only used when headlamp use is not required. The bill was signed into law by the Governor.
Iowa/Oregon Suspension Modifications: SEMA-opposed legislation that sought to set maximum frame and body heights for motor vehicles failed to pass in the Iowa legislature.
Louisiana Fog Lamps: SEMA defeated a bill in Louisiana that would have prohibited the use of aftermarket fog lamps on motor vehicles. Current Louisiana law permits the use of two fog lamps, without regard to whether they are factory-installed or aftermarket equipment.
Mississippi Auxiliary Lamps: SEMA defeated bills that sought to ban the sale, installation and use of spot lamps, flood lamps and other auxiliary lighting equipment intended for off-highway use, and ban rear-mounted auxiliary lighting or lighting that is visible from the rear of a vehicle.
Montana Headlamp Covers and Tinting: SEMA helped defeat a bill that would have unfairly banned the use of headlamp covers or headlamp tinting when the use of headlamps is not required.
In 2001, SEMA supported and opposed legislation and regulations on issues ranging from vehicle safety to off-highway vehicle land-use to fuel economy. In 2002, we can expect more federal activity in many of these same areas. The following is a brief status report on some of the more significant issues.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards: In legislation overhauling national energy policy, the U.S. House rejected efforts to drastically hike CAFE standards. Instead they supported a measure requiring light trucks to consume 5 billion fewer gallons of gas by 2010 - a net 1-mpg CAFE increase. In the Senate, there is greater support to significantly raise CAFE targets. In fact, the more strident positions advocate as much as a 40-mpg standard for cars and trucks within the next decade! Should lawmakers decide not to deal with CAFE this year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to begin looking at raising CAFE from the regulatory side. SEMA has consistently argued that any CAFE hike will threaten consumer vehicle choice because it will force manufacturers to downsize, underpower or simply eliminate popular models in order to meet federally mandated fuel economy targets.
Headlamp Glare: NHTSA requested public comment on how to respond to perceived problems with glare from higher-mounted headlamps (found on SUVs, etc.), high intensity discharge headlamps (HIDs) and auxiliary front-mounted lamps. SEMA is working with NHTSA to identify safety issues and any solutions to consumer complaints.
Tire Pressure Monitors: NHTSA proposed a rule that automakers install tire pressure monitoring systems on all new vehicles beginning in model year 2003. The monitors will warn drivers when their tires are under-inflated. SEMA believes the proposed rule could have the unintended consequence of limiting consumer access to aftermarket wheel and tires due to monitor design, installation and programming difficulties on custom wheel and tire combinations. As such, SEMA recommended modifying the rule to ensure that the monitoring systems are compatible with aftermarket wheel and tire equipment and that servicing, programming and installation information is shared with the independent repair industry as well as enthusiasts. NHTSA will likely release its final rule in late 2002.
"Right to Repair" Act: A bill (H.R. 2735) has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that seeks to reaffirm consumer choice in affordable vehicle repair. Specifically, H.R. 2735 would provide independent service mechanics access to computer data that controls many vehicle systems and components, guaranteeing that they will have the same information as dealers. Not included in this bill is engine-and- emissions-related service information already addressed in the EPA's on-board diagnostic (OBD) rules. SEMA is pleased that legislation has been introduced to ensure consumers have their choice of vehicle repair options.
"Roadless Rule": A ban on road building in 58.5 million acres of land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) was challenged by the Bush Administration which directed the USFS to seek public comments on whether local land managers should be given more authority to craft a policy. SEMA argued that an across-the-board road ban did not take into account the social and recreational impact on off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and tourists, as well as the economic impact on the manufacturers, suppliers and retailers of OHV-related vehicle equipment. SEMA recommended that local forest planning is the most effective way to manage and evaluate roadless areas.
Vehicle Rollover: Last spring, NHTSA began releasing rollover ratings for passenger vehicles. The rating system is determined by dividing one-half of a vehicle's track width by the height of its center of gravity. NHTSA converts the resulting number into a five-star rollover rating scale - fewer stars mean greater rollover propensity. Given this single measurement, taller and more narrow vehicles are receiving fewer stars than shorter and wider vehicles. SEMA remains skeptical of these ratings because they are based solely on static mathematical calculations rather than real-world testing that takes into account vehicle handling characteristics, driver behavior, plus road and weather conditions. Ironically, NHTSA is now developing a "dynamic" rollover test based on driving maneuverability tests. These test results will also be made public and may replace the mathematical calculations used currently. NHTSA rollover ratings are available at www.nhtsa.dot.gov/hot/rollover/Index.html.
Michigan Bill Threatens Project Vehicles, Parts, Cars
A remarkably ill-conceived bill (S.B. 631) has been introduced in the Michigan legislature that would prohibit hobbyists from storing damaged vehicles on private property. Under the bill, if a hobbyist fails to comply with a court order to remove the vehicle(s), he or she can be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail!
Specifically, S.B. 631 deems a damaged vehicle to be "litter" for the purpose of removal, regardless of whether or not the vehicle is out of public view. This includes any motor vehicle that is "damaged, deteriorated, [or] in a condition such that the item cannot be used for the purpose for which the item was manufactured." Notably, this legislation permits citizens, as well as government officials, to seek a court order to compel hobbyists to remove project vehicles from their own property. It would also allow individuals to bring civil actions against hobbyists for maintaining project vehicles and to collect damages, attorney fees and costs associated with these legal actions.
There is little question that S.B. 631 demonstrates a lack of understanding of the vehicle hobby and would make it difficult for hobbyists to work on collector vehicles on private property. The SEMA Action Network has alerted Michigan hobbyists to this unfortunate bill and is hopeful that, through our combined efforts, we will defeat this legislation.
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We'd like to know what clubs and enthusiasts across the country are up to; what charity events they1re involved in; when and where rod runs, car shows and rallies are held; and what issues concern club members and individual enthusiasts. One of the best ways to keep us abreast of what is going on and what is important to the automobile hobbies nation- wide is to receive club newsletters and updates.
Consider putting SEMA on your mailing list. Send correspondence to SEMA Action Network, 1317 F St., NW, Ste. 500, Washington, D.C. 20004. Clubs can also reach us via e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at 202/783-6024.
We Get Letters
The October Driving Force Can You Believe?" article noted that Texas State Troopers wrote a bunch of tickets at the entrance to a car show in Round Rock, Texas. The article generated a lot of reader response - pro and con - with regard to the police action which we published in our November edition. Not to belabor a subject, but we liked this final sobering comment on the matter! - Ed.
I read some of the comments [to the October "Can You Believe" column],
and I saw a lot of validity in both points.
As with all sports and hobbies, there are those who play by the rules, those who don't and those who aren1t aware of what the rules are or how frequently the rules change.
I can remember years ago building a Dodge Charger with traction bars. When I went to get the car inspected, I was told that the traction bars or any device that hung below the lip of the rim was illegal. A clear case of not knowing what the law was.
A few years ago, I was stopped for excessive exhaust noise while turning around in a residential neighborhood. The car in question was a 340 Demon with a three-inch exhaust all the way out the back of the car. While the car met the state decibel requirement, it apparently upset some private citizens that simply heard me drive by.
I guess what I am saying is that it has almost become a part of the hobby to be stopped by the law. After all, we are driving very eye-catching vehicles. I'm not saying that it1s right or wrong, it just is.
- Manson W. Myles
Wilmington, North Carolina
Newly Introduced Legislation
Note: The following bills are not laws. They have been recently introduced and are currently being considered for adoption by the respective state legislatures.
Michigan: S.B. 631 would classify inoperable vehicles as litter for the purpose of abatement.
New Jersey: A.B. 3776 would provide for a non-binding referendum regarding options for the redevelopment of the Meadowlands sports and entertainment complex, including the construction of a NASCAR track.
Pennsylvania: S.B. 1097/S.B. 1103 would provide for antique, classic and collectible license plates.