California Hobbyists Kill Emissions Exemption Legislation… For Now
In a limited victory for California’s SEMA Action Network community, legislation reintroduced in the California Senate to repeal the state’s “rolling" emissions testing exemption for vehicles 30 years old and older has been eliminated––for now.
S.B. 1172, sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-District 23), as originally written, sought to repeal the current pro-hobbyist exemption and replace it with a static emissions testing exemption for pre-1974 vehicles only. California SEMA Action Network clubs and enthusiasts, and SEMA-member companies were alerted about the bill and encouraged to contact their legislators in opposition. The response was remarkable. While we can’t say that the deluge of mail, e-mail and faxes to the legislature convinced Sen. Kuehl to reconstruct S. B. 1172, we can say it certainly helped!
A word of caution: Although S.B. 1172 is no longer a threat to California’s hobbyist community, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) may find another way to reintroduce legislation to eliminate the rolling emissions exemption during this legislative session. In fact, we expect them to.
Now is not the time to slack off. We need to continue to remind legislators of the facts:
- Current California law recognizes the minimal impact that 30-year-old and older vehicles have on overall emissions calculations and air quality.
- Older vehicles constitute a tiny portion of California’s vehicle population––currently less than 3 percent of more than 23 million vehicles––and are poor source from which to look for emissions reductions.
- Antique and classic vehicles are overwhelmingly well-maintained and infrequently driven (about one-third the miles each year of a new vehicle).
- As we mentioned last month, California legislators and regulators are feeling the heat from their failed efforts to meet air-quality goals and are looking for a convenient scapegoat. The old-car hobby should not carry the burden of its mistakes!
SEMA Works to Fix Flawed Emissions Exemption, Collector Car Bill
Capitalizing on a long-standing relationship with California State Senator Maurice Johannessen (R-District 4), SEMA was able to amend yet another bill (S.B. 800) seeking to repeal California’s current 30-year rolling emissions exemption.
SEMA was also able to amend another section of S.B. 800 designed to limit “collector car" status to vehicles built prior to 1975. The new language allows owners of vehicles 25 years old and older to have their cars classified as collector vehicles. New language would also allow collector vehicles to receive an emissions testing exemption. Consider this: As originally written with the 1975 cut-off, a hobbyist’s ‘78 Camaro, 25-year anniversary Firebird, mid-to-late ‘80’s Buick Grand National and countless other late-model cars would NEVER be afforded collector car status under California law. To protect the hobby, we have to work to guarantee its future. SEMA believes this amendment is a step in the right direction. We’re certain our SEMA Action Network friends in their pride-and-joy 5.0 Mustangs agree with us.
A collector car owner himself, SEMA would like to thank Sen. Johannessen for allowing these common-sense amendments to S. B. 800. Over the years, SEMA has worked with Johannessen to, among other things, develop a legal collector car definition and eliminate visual (under-hood) emissions testing procedures. We know Sen. Johannessen to be a friend to the hobby and we are proud of our working relationship with his office.
SEMA Seeks Testing and Certification Program to Remedy Exhaust Noise Enforcement Problem in California
SEMA-drafted legislation (S.B. 1081) to allow California vehicles equipped with modified aftermarket exhaust systems to be tested and certified to the state’s 95-decibel noise limit is making its way through the California legislature.
Current California law allows exhaust modifications, modified tailpipes or muffler tips which increase noise levels as long as they do not exceed the 95 (db) limit. However, current roadside enforcement of this limit is chaotic, leading to subjective, selective and improper enforcement. Many SEMA Action Network members––the majority of them in the import performance scene––have been pulled over by state and local police and cited for improper modified exhaust systems despite having what they believe to be legal aftermarket exhausts.
To prove our point (and educate ourselves) about the widespread improper enforcement of current exhaust noise law, SEMA conducted a series of exhaust noise tests in early April to see what was what. First, we contacted California SEMA Action Network members to see how many folks had received citations for excessive or modified exhaust. We were surprised and dismayed to learn how many fit the category! We then invited them to have their cars tested to see if they actually complied with California law. Finally, we hired a board-certified acoustical engineer and did the testing according to the standards set out in California law. Long story short, of the cars we tested only one exceeded the 95db legal level––and that was only by .5 db (95.5 db).
SEMA Director of Government Affairs Steve McDonald notes that, “S.B. 1081 seeks to provide for a procedure by which law enforcement authorities would have to objectively demonstrate that a vehicle exhaust system does not comply with the test standard set out in the California regulations." SEMA has worked tirelessly on S.B. 1081 and is hopeful that this common-sense pro-hobby and pro-industry bill will not meet with opposition in the legislature. McDonald is cautiously optimistic: “SEMA’s goal with this legislation is to remove inconsistencies from the California exhaust noise law, reduce improper citations and encourage legal exhaust modifications. We are hopeful this bill will be the answer."
Unfair Raised Vehicle Bill Killed in Georgia
Georgia H.B. 192 sought to ban any vehicle whose suspension had been altered to raise the vehicle more than 2 inches above factory specifications. SEMA, along with members of the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, voiced its strong objections to the sponsor of the bill convincing him to withdraw it.
The legislation is a perfect example of an attempt to set an arbitrary limit, with no regard for independent vehicle characteristics such as gross vehicle weight and suspension geometry. In addition, H.B. 192 would have banned raised vehicles based upon overstated concerns about bumper-height mismatch, effectively making the vehicle manufacturers the sole authority on vehicle height. Finally, had H.B. 192 passed, owners of modified rigs would have been forced to undergo the substantial expense of reinstalling original components.
SEMA would like to thank Georgia SEMA Action Network members, especially the Southern Four Wheel Drive Association, for their active opposition to this bill.
Restrictive Vehicle Lighting Legislation Solved in Mississippi and Arkansas
Mississippi S.B. 2737, as originally introduced, would have banned the use of auxiliary white lights mounted on or near the rear of a vehicle (or visible from the rear) unless they were designed by the vehicle manufacturer and were only functional when the vehicle was in the “park" position.
Mississippi outdoor enthusiasts and SEMA were justifiably concerned by this bill because it would have effectively banned the aftermarket lighting systems often used by hunters and campers, among others, who depend on their vehicles to provide adequate lighting for night excursions. The bill also ignored the fact that auxiliary lights improve driving vision and safety and provided no data demonstrating the need to ban these devices.
Fortunately for Mississippi hobbyists, SEMA, with the help of Mississippi Representative Clinton Rotenberry, was successful in amending the bill so that the lights can also be designed by an aftermarket manufacturer. S.B. 2737 is currently on the Governor’s desk, awaiting signature. SEMA would like to personally thank Rep. Rotenberry for his efforts to ensure that this legislation does not infringe upon the rights of hobbyists.
In Arkansas, H.B. 1449 was introduced to ban the installation and use of all headlamp covers and coatings that reduce light intensity. SEMA was fortunate to have its suggested amendments to permit headlamp covers adopted, provided that they are only used when headlamp use is not required. The bill was signed into law by the Governor. This compromise should allow show vehicles to be driven to and from events during daylight hours while ensuring the safety of other drivers in times of low visibility.
Inoperable Vehicle Bill Amended in Vermont
As reported last month, Vermont S.B. 151, as originally introduced, would have allowed government agencies to remove motor vehicles from private property if the vehicle did not have both a valid registration plate and an ascertainable vehicle identification number. The vehicles could then be sold by the state at auction.
Vermont members of the SEMA Action Network were alerted to this bill and the letters in opposition began to flow into the legislature. Finally, thanks to tireless work by Vermont hobbyist Randy Shannon, the bill was amended so that vehicles can only be assumed to be abandoned on private property (and therefore subject to government removal) if the owner of the property files a complaint or is there without the owner’s permission.
S.B. 151 passed the Senate Transportation Committee as amended and is currently moving through the legislature. SEMA would like to commend Shannon on his continuing efforts to protect the rights of hobbyists in the Northeast.
West Virginia Inoperable Vehicle Legislation
West Virginia S.B. 201, as originally introduced, would have allowed government agencies to remove so-called “junk" vehicles from private property if they are in plain view and not registered as historic. However, this bill was recently amended to declare that a vehicle is not “junk" if it is (1) on the owner’s property, (2) being stored so its parts can be used for other vehicles and (3) the owner possesses other similar vehicles. While it is not clear what exactly other “similar" vehicles means, this amendment is definitely an improvement over the original bill, which made no exceptions for hobbyists in the process of building or restoring project vehicles.
Unfortunately, a similar bill (H.B. 2440) was passed by the West Virginia House Roads and Transportation Committee and appears to be headed for a floor vote. This bill makes no provisions for automotive collectors and ignores the fact that inoperable vehicles serve as a valuable and sometimes sole source of parts. West Virginia members of the SEMA Action Network, such as the Vaperz Car Club, have been contacted and encouraged to write their legislators to protect project cars and restoration projects in their region.
Cub Scouts and Car Shows
Jeff Mello, a Cubmaster, and his wife, Tara Baukus Mello––an automotive journalist, have come up with a unique way of raising funds for their Cub Scout Pack in Simi Valley, Calif. For the past 3 years, Jeff and Tara, along with other parents of Scouts in Pack 3663, have put on the Cubs and Cars car show on the grounds of the Simi Valley Amtrak Station at 5050 Los Angeles Avenue. Last year’s event drew 225 cars and nearly 8000 spectators. This year’s show is scheduled for May 20.
"It costs about $400 per month just to provide the advancements for the kids. Then there are additional expenses involved, such as subsidizing field trips we take as a pack," explains Jeff. "We wanted to try something different from selling merchandise door-to-door."
Due to the size of the event, a lot of work is required from the parents (who are the sole organizers of the show), as well as a great deal of generosity from businesses and automotive enthusiasts. The Cubs and Cars car show is still in need of donations for the silent auction and raffle. It is looking for hobby-related merchandise, from die-cast cars to books, pictures and gift certificates. Also, you can make a cash donation to purchase a raffle item in your club or company’s name. If you’re interested in helping out Cub Scout Pack 3663 or you’d like to register for the show, contact Tara by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, call before 9 p.m. at: 805/583-3784; or send donations directly to Tara and Jeff Mello, 1062 Wilson Drive, Simi Valley, Calif. 93065 (checks made out to: Cub Scout Pack 3663). All donations are tax-deductible and all businesses making donations are listed on a thank you flier distributed the day of the show.
Driving Force recognizes Tara and Jeff and all of the volunteers and participants who make the Cubs and Cars car show such a success. It’s another great example of how our hobby can make a positive contribution to the community. If you’re in the Simi Valley area on May 20, we encourage you to stop by and see the show. Admission is free, and it promises to be a good time.
Driving Force Wants to Hear Your Automotive-Related 'Horror Stories.'
More and more, SEMA hears about people being "turned in" to authorities because they violated the law by changing their oil in the driveway rather than at the local gas station or because a nosy neighbor peered over their privacy fence and reported them to zoning officials for having a project car in their backyard.
Other folks point to being pulled over (and sometimes ticketed) for silly reasons, including, but not limited to, the following:
Street rodders pulled over for "unsafe" blue-dot taillights or for having "non-stock" parts on a customized vehicle;
Antique cars owners ticketed for not wearing seatbelts when the car was never originally equipped with them;
Import-performance rides pulled over and cited because they simply have a modified exhaust or it "sounds too loud;"
Lowriders ticketed for using hydraulics at a designated car show (not while driving);
Lifted 4x4 owners pulled over and cited because, "Man, that thing is just TOO tall;"
Garage owners who were forced out of business because of overzealous government regulation.
The automotive hobby, from street rods to lifted 4x4's and every vehicle type in-between, is subject to a nationwide hodge-podge of silly laws, weird regulations and chaotic enforcement . And it seems everybody has a story to tell about their experiences.
We want to hear these stories! Write to SEMA with your experiences, tales of woe, accounts of silliness and narratives of the bizarre. We'll do our part by publishing them (subject to editing, of course) in a semi-regular column in the Driving Force called "Can You Believe?!"
Perhaps by publicizing the ridiculous lengths the government will go through to harass, restrict and confuse hobbyists, we can inject a little common sense into how vehicle laws (and vehicle hobbyist laws) are developed and enforced.
Submit stories, pictures, documentary evidence, etc. to the following:
Can You Believe?!
Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA)
1317 F Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20004
Newly Introduced Legislation
Note: The following state bills are not laws. They have been recently introduced and are currently being considered for adoption by the respective state legislatures.
Alabama: H.B. 728 would require all non-attainment counties to implement an emission testing program by May 1, 2003, and all other counties to follow within 2 years after that.
Alaska: H.B. 188 would provide that vehicles with modified emissions parts may not be considered in violation if they are at or below standards imposed by law.
Maine: H.B. 966 would mandate that the state adopt federal tier 2 motor vehicle emissions standards.
Maine: H.B. 1254 would expand the enhanced emission testing program from Cumberland county to include the entire state by Jan. 1, 2002.
Massachusetts: H.B. 3795 would provide a 1-year emission inspection exemption for new motor vehicles.
Ohio: H.B. 171 would exempt vehicles driven less than 1000 miles per year from emission inspections.
Pennsylvania: H.B. 990 would provide a 1-year emission inspection exemption for new motor vehicles.
Pennsylvania: H.B. 1094 would mandate that the OBD emission inspection system be in operation by March 1, 2002.
Pennsylvania: S.B. 645 would exempt from sales tax from parts purchased for a motor vehicle to bring it into compliance with emission standards.
Massachusetts: H.B. 3593 would prohibit the sale of aftermarket exhaust systems that would amplify exhaust noise above stock levels.
Texas: H.B. 3072 would set standards for motor vehicle stop lamps.
Oregon: H.B. 2019 would prohibit local governments from implementing ordinances that would prohibit the activities of automotive hobbyists.
Texas: H.B. 2580 would include land-use restrictions under the jurisdiction of municipalities.
Texas: H.B. 2634 would include vehicle storage on private property as an activity that may be regulated by municipalities.
California: A.B. 1707 would permit vehicles to be equipped with one or two cargo lamps.
Louisiana: H.B. 874 would prohibit non-factory fog lamps on motor vehicles.
North Carolina: H.B. 314 would prohibit drivers from burning more than two auxiliary lamps when approaching oncoming traffic.
South Carolina: H.B. 3751 would repeal the law prohibiting the alteration of vehicle lighting and reflectors.
Registration and Inspection
Alaska: H.B. 167 would provide for antique-vehicle license plates.
Delaware: H.B. 111 would provide for one-time registration and inspection of antique vehicles.
Florida: S.B. 1068 would provide that rebuilt vehicles be issued decals which must be displayed.
Georgia: S.B. 97 would allow vehicles manufactured in 1957 or earlier to display historical plates. Currently, vehicles must have been manufactured in 1942 or earlier.
Iowa: H.B. 594 would allow vehicles 25 years old or older to display a single license plate.
Louisiana: S.B. 735 would exempt motor vehicles 3 years old or newer from inspections.
Louisiana: S.B. 771 would eliminate the motor vehicle inspection program.
Nevada: S.B. 534 would provide a special registration classification and plates for antique trucks and truck-tractors not used for general transportation.
New York: A.B. 5826 would provide for a one-time registration for historic vehicles.
New York: A.B. 6977 would provide for a one-time registration fee of $100 for historic vehicles.
Oregon: S.B. 201 would provide that antique and special interest vehicles be issued a single license plate.
Rhode Island: H.B. 6153 would provide for a street rod registration designation for vehicles over 25 years old that have been rebuilt or modified for speed.
West Virginia: H.B. 2840 would repeal the motor vehicle inspection program.
Maryland: H.B. 411 would establish a task force to study motor vehicle salvage inspection and titling practices.
Minnesota: S.B. 1381/H.B. 1551 would provide that the Commissioner of Natural Resources will complete an environmental assessment for any trail building project before work begins.
Rhode Island: H.B. 6283 would permit window tinting material on side and rear windows, provided that there is a light transmittance of 35% or more.