SEMA News - August 2010

By Steve McDonald

Law and Order is an update of some of the most recent federal and state legislative and regulatory issues that could potentially impact the automotive specialty-equipment industry. These include issues affecting small-business owners and their employees.

CANADA UPDATE

Canada (Prince Edward Island)

Nitrous Oxide: The province of Prince Edward Island has enacted a new law to permit the installation of nitrous-oxide systems as long as the feed lines are disconnected or the canisters are removed while the vehicle is being operated on a public road. The law largely mirrors SEMA-model legislation to better protect public road safety while ensuring legitimate off-road uses of nitrous-oxide systems.

STATE UPDATE

California

Specially Constructed Vehicles: The California Senate Transportation Committee will consider legislation to increase the registration limit for exempted specially constructed vehicle registrations from 500 to 750 vehicles per year. The Assembly has already approved the measure. Current law provides for emissions-system certification and a model-year designation for specially constructed vehicles. Under the law, vehicle owners choose whether a smog-test referee certifies the engine model year or the vehicle model year. To determine model year, inspectors compare the vehicle to those of the era that the vehicle most closely resembles. If there is no close match, it is classified as a ’60 vehicle. Only those emissions controls applicable to the model year and that can be reasonably accommodated by the vehicle are required. The Department of Motor Vehicles provides a new registration to the first 500 specially constructed vehicles per year that meet the criteria.

Diesel Parts: The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has issued its new test procedure and related requirements to obtain Executive Orders (EOs) for emissions-related diesel performance parts. CARB has developed a “Parts in Progress List” (viewable at www.arb.ca.gov) that identifies companies that have submitted all traditional EO applications materials and must now address additional requirements. Upon successful completion of this initial process, applicants will be given one year to conduct the required emissions tests and obtain EOs (beginning July 1, 2010, and ending July 1, 2011), during which time no diesel vehicle equipped with parts in the certification process will fail the visual portion of the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) smog-check test. CARB will be updating the “Parts in Progress” list on a continuing basis, adding the names and products of companies that have qualified for the program. The BAR smog-check stations will be referencing this part of the CARB website to identify products that will not cause failure of the smog check’s visual portion.

Florida

Tires: Legislation that would have required tire dealers to disclose the date of manufacture and provide warnings related to the effect of aged tires was not considered by the legislature prior to adjournment for the year. Additional legislation prohibiting the sale of any new or used tire that is more than six years old was also not considered. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has studied the tire-aging issue but has yet to reach a conclusion. SEMA contends that the service life of a tire is affected by many factors that are independent of the chronological age of the tire. Tire properties evolve over a combination of time, service and storage conditions. Tires change more rapidly when exposed to excessive heat, under-inflation or overloaded conditions. SEMA recommends having tires, including the spare, inspected regularly. Tire inflation pressure should be checked and properly adjusted at least once a month to maintain safety and fuel economy.

Kansas

Specialty Vehicle Fees: SEMA convinced Kansas legislators to delete provisions from a revenue bill that increased the fees on antiques, street rods and special-interest vehicles. The language sought to raise the registration fees on these vehicles, including a $10 increase on January 1, 2013, and another $10 increase on January 1, 2014. The revenue bill, without the increased fees on hobbyist vehicles, was signed into law by Governor Mark Parkinson.

Ohio

Street Rods/Custom Vehicles: The Ohio House Transportation Committee unanimously passed SEMA-model legislation to create a vehicle registration and titling classification for street rods and custom vehicles and provide for special license plates for these vehicles. The bill defines a street rod as an altered vehicle manufactured before 1949 and a custom as an altered vehicle at least 25 years old and manufactured after 1948. The bill allows kit cars and replica vehicles to be assigned a certificate of title bearing the same model-year designation that the body of the vehicle was constructed to resemble. The measure also includes street rods and customs in the historical motor-vehicle definition for the purpose of holding these vehicles only to the equipment standards specified by law during the model year listed on the title of the vehicle. The bill will now be sent to the floor for a vote by the
full House.

Vermont

Inoperable Vehicles: SEMA-supported legislation to provide an exemption to automotive hobbyists from restrictions on salvage yards was signed into law by Vermont Governor Jim Douglas. The new law increases the regulation of salvage yards and automobile graveyards in the state but includes a provision stipulating that hobbyists are not to be confused with the owners of automobile graveyards. The law defines an “automobile hobbyist” as a person not primarily engaged in the sale of vehicles and parts or dismantling junk vehicles. Further, the definition of “automobile graveyard” does not include an area used by an automobile hobbyist for storage and restoration purposes, provided their activities comply with federal, state and municipal law. 

Federal Update

Tougher Auto Safety Rules: The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed a bill to mandate new automaker safety standards and strengthen the NHTSA’s authority. The NHTSA would be required to establish new motor-vehicle safety standards for unintended accelerations, such as a brake-override requirement. Event data recorders (“black boxes”) would be required on all new vehicles starting in model year 2015. The maximum amount of civil penalties that could be imposed for failure to report safety defects would be increased. The NHTSA would also establish a new department dedicated to vehicle electronics and emerging technologies. The legislation is largely supported by Democrats while Republicans express concern that the bill is over-reaching, citing the potential of black boxes to violate drivers’ privacy as an example. 

CO2 Emissions Standards: Just months after establishing mileage and CO2 emissions standards for model-year (MY) 2012–2016 cars and light trucks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the NHTSA and CARB are now drafting standards for MY 2017–2025 vehicles. The EPA will also consider reducing emissions of conventional pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, and, for the first time, federal regulators will establish fuel-economy and CO2 standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks beginning in MY 2014. Federal and state officials will work with the automakers toward the goal of setting one national CO2 standard. The automakers participated in formulating the 2012–2016 rules, supported by SEMA, since it provided a national approach to regulating CO2 emissions rather than a patchwork of state rules.

Vehicle Fuel Conversions: The EPA has proposed a streamlined process for approving fuel conversion systems (natural gas, propane, alcohol, electricity, etc.). The agency would establish a three-tiered compliance process based on the age of the vehicle rather than the current one-size-fits-all approach. Under the revision, a vehicle/engine conversion system that is less than two years old would still require a certificate of conformity demonstrating emissions compliance, but the manufacturer could apply the exhaust and evaporative emissions tests to more vehicle conversions than is currently allowed. The tests would still be required for intermediate-age engines (more than two years old but still within their useful life), but the manufacturers would then just forward the test data to the EPA with a statement that the OBD system will continue to operate properly after the conversion. For vehicles beyond their useful life, the EPA will pick one of the following three options: 1) require conversion manufacturers to submit a detailed description of the conversion technology to demonstrate that it is well-engineered; 2) conduct the same emissions testing as required for intermediate-age vehicles; or 3) submit the option-one description along with an OBD diagnostic scan report.

Hexavalent Chromium Exposure: Employers are now required to notify their workers when there is any hexavalent chromium present in the workplace, even when it is below the permissible exposure limit (PEL). In the past, companies only had to inform employees when exposures exceeded the PEL. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) changed its rule in response to a lawsuit and a U.S. Appeals Court directive. Under the previous rule, companies were directed to monitor employee exposure and notify affected workers when levels exceeded the permissible level of five micrograms per cubic meter of air over an eight-hour time-weighted average. Employers are required to perform periodic monitoring at least every six months if initial monitoring shows exposure at or above the action level (2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air). Hexavalent chromium is a naturally occurring heavy metal frequently used in paints, electroplating or as an anti-corrosion agent for metals, such as stainless steel. Exposure can occur when workers use paints containing chromates, operate chrome plating baths or weld/cut metals containing chromium. OSHA contends the toxic chemical may irritate or damage the skin, eyes and respiratory track, among other concerns.  

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