SEMA News—February 2012

LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Steve McDonald

Law and Order

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.

STATE UPDATE

automotive legislation, automotive regulations, auto title laws, offroad regulations
Texas Street Rods/Custom Vehicles: The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has issued a proposed regulation implementing standards for the initial safety inspection of street rods and custom vehicles. The proposal was drafted pursuant to the enactment into law last year of SEMA-model legislation to create a vehicle registration classification for street rods and customs (including kit cars and replicas) and provide for special license plates for these vehicles. The new law 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 law also allows for the use of non-original materials and creates a titling and registration criterion that assigns these vehicles the same model-year designations as the production vehicles they most closely resemble. In addition, the law holds street rods, customs and replicas to only the equipment standards specified by law during the model year listed on the title of the vehicle. Under the proposal, the inspection would be performed by an ASE-rated Master Tech who must certify that the vehicle is structurally stable and is equipped with the equipment required by the law.

Washington Restoration/Customization Shops: SEMA is working with state lawmakers and restoration and customization shop owners in Washington state on legislation to exempt these facilities from the requirement that they provide a written estimate before beginning work. The draft bill applies only to vehicles that qualify for a horseless-carriage or collector-vehicle license plate and vehicles that meet the definition for street rod or custom vehicle. The purpose of the bill is to differentiate businesses that restore and customize specialty collector’s automobiles from typical motor-vehicle repair shops.

FEDERAL UPDATE

Regulatory Burdens: The U.S. House of Representatives passed SEMA-supported legislation to reduce the cost of burdensome regulations on business owners and job creators. The Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011 would require federal agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis when issuing new rules. Although a few laws already permit such analysis, the legislation would overturn the prohibition contained in other laws, such as the Clean Air Act, Motor Vehicle Safety Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act and Endangered Species Act. The data and evidence gathered in the analysis would be subject to judicial review. Agencies would generally be required to adopt the “least costly” approach to achieving policy goals established by Congress. A companion bill faces an uphill battle in the U.S. Senate and a presidential veto over concerns that it could make it more difficult for agencies to enact regulations.

CAFE Standards: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued draft regulations to set fuel economy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions limits for model-year ’17–’25 vehicles. The fleetwide average will rise from 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) at the end of 2016 to 54.5 mpg for model-year ’25, a nearly 5% annual increase, with slightly lower standards for light-duty trucks. The government estimates that the rules would add $2,000 to the price of a new passenger car sold in 2025 but save more than $6,000 in fuel costs over the vehicle’s lifetime. In order to obtain the fuel savings, the automakers will rely on improvements of conventional technologies, including more efficient engines and transmissions, and higher-strength, lightweight materials. The fuel-economy standards were agreed to in principle earlier this summer by most of the automakers. The agreement preserves California’s authority to regulate CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases while creating a single national standard. CO2 emissions and fuel economy are linked, since carbon dioxide is a byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion.

Forest Service Planning Rule: A U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee held an oversight hearing on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft rule for managing the country’s 193 million acres for national forests and grasslands. The courts have rejected previous versions of the Planning Rule in recent years. SEMA has joined with a number of other organizations representing the off-road community in opposing the draft rule on grounds that it does not adequately protect access for motorized recreation and will be a source of ongoing litigation. Many subcommittee members expressed concern that the proposed Planning Rule was too vague to prevent future lawsuits and incorporated undefined terms. Opponents fear that the rule may be applied in a protectionist fashion rather than accommodating multiple-use activities. The issue is of importance to SEMA-member companies that market products to the off-road community based on the consumers’ ability to have access to Forest Service roads and trails. The Congressional panel urged the Forest Service to revise the Planning Rule so as to provide a clearer explanation of guidelines and to ensure a “full mix of recreational opportunities.”

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