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Friday, May 26, 2017

Routine smog checkpoints impede California roads in broad daylight

CALIFORNIA — Checkpoints are becoming part of the scenery in many parts of the country.  Excuses for blocking roads range from catching drunks, to finding drugs, to catching illegal immigrants, to just simply making people show their papers in order to continue down the road.  In California, they employ daily checkpoints to catch polluters.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Dane Chea, owner of Holt Automotive Repair in Rocklin, after witnessing a nearby smog checkpoint. “It’s taking time away from people. Everybody’s busy.”

Smog testing equipment used at a checkpoint.  (Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield)
Smog testing equipment used at a checkpoint. (Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield)
The smog tests, run by the California Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR),  are technically voluntary, but with the fanfare and presence of highway patrolmen flagging people down, it does not come off that way to many drivers.
“They certainly don’t make it seem like it’s voluntary. There were no warning markers. Nothing like that at all,” said Brentwood resident, Mark Cutino.  “It just seemed intimidating,” he told the San Jose Mercury News.
The California Highway Patrol’s own Erik Martinez admitted to the same newspaper that he “spent a lot of time trying to calm drivers down” at a recent checkpoint.
After witnessing a smog checkpoint in his neighborhood at 11:00 a.m. in the morning, Scott Tsuneishi of described what he saw as a “mandatory smog blockade.”
Two teams of BAR agents are deployed on a “near-daily basis.”  If the drivers comply with the checkpoint, bureaucrats insert a probe in their tailpipe and the vehicles are analyzed for a number of failures.  According to Mercury News:
The tests, which take about 10 minutes, are set up similar to smog checks at a service station. Technicians drive the vehicle up onto an elevated metal dynamometer to check the car’s components and systems, indicator lights, ignition timing, gas cap and exhaust recirculation system, said Eric DeBarruel, a program representative with the automotive bureau.
Initially set up as a “one-time inspection” in 1966 by the California Highway Patrol, this program has continued to grow and expand. 1996 gave way to bi-annual inspections that were tied to the registration process of the vehicle. This means that by accepting a California driver’s license and registration, you are agreeing that you will comply with this law or that you will be subject to legal consequences.
In 2002, the California Health and Safety Code added Section 44081, which was meant to give the code and existing smog laws some “teeth.”  This specific section gives police officers in California the authority to randomly stop vehicles to “ensure their compliance with state smog laws.” The first portion of the section reads:
44081. (a) (1) The department, in cooperation with the state board, shall institute procedures for auditing the emissions of vehicles while actually being driven on the streets and highways of the state. The department may undertake those procedures itself or seek a qualified vendor of these services. The primary object of the procedures shall be the detection of gross polluters. The procedures shall consist of techniques and technologies determined to be effective for that purpose by the department, including, but not limited to, remote sensing. The procedures may include pullovers for roadside emissions testing and inspection.
Combined with the bi-annual inspections that are tied to vehicle registration and Section 44081 and what do you end up with?  Today’s smog checkpoints.
But are these checkpoints really worth anything?  California vehicles already have to pass an emissions test to be registered in the state.  Why devote resources to a redundant smog check?  Isn’t California bankrupt?
Last month, the California Taxpayers Association compiled a startling analysis of the state’s unfunded debts.  As reported by the Sacramento Bee:
Cal-Tax researchers counted $443 billion in state and local debts, roughly two-thirds of it carried by the state and the other third by local agencies. That’s the equivalent of a fifth of the state’s annual economic output and amounts to $11,600 for each of California’s 38 million residents.
It is remarkable that a state with such startling levels of outstanding debts can be spending money on frivolous things like this.  But this is California we are talking about.  No project is too absurd to spend taxpayers’ dollars on.  In fact, if a driver fails emissions testing in California, they pay him to stop driving his vehicle, from $1,000 to $1,500, in what is referred to as a “vehicle retirement” package.
In light of the redundancy of the testing, and with the state budget statistics in mind, one  can only conclude that the California legislature wants to spend money it doesn’t have, and wants the public to grow accustomed to being flagged down by police in broad daylight for customary checkpoints.

Reposting this 2013 article because it was reported (now confirmed, but don't have detail on it just yet) that the CHP were pulling over cars in San Bruno yesterday supposably for the purposes of conducting a smog check. These are not mandatory, they are voluntary, yet they tend to make it sound like they are mandatory unless you specifically ask.
If you happen to see or get caught up in one of these smog checkpoints here in CA, please take pics or video and post them.
These are not mandatory, they are voluntary. A few years ago they were doing this in Rocklin CA. I was on my bike. I stopped to see if they were telling the people it is voluntary. They laughed at me. I went back to the bike and grabbed my video camera. The CHP Officer walked back to his car and stayed there. I told the people waiting for their cars it was voluntary. They challenged those doing the testing and they said yes, it is voluntary. Those folks left and no one else wanted to participate in the "voluntary" smog check. The tests are being conducted by the Bureau of Automotive Repair.
Here is the ding...this is just another way to generate revenue by partnering with an industry that benefits from frightened citizens who think they can be fined or forced to get rid of their car if they don't meet the standard. On the flip side, CHP can't issue citations for a failed test because it would expose the existing system of required smog tests as flawed. And I'm sure these must be some type of kickback from each smog station to the state just to participate in the program. Again, it is all about the $$$$$$$

                     Roadside Inspection Program

The Roadside Inspection Program was established by the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 44081 which requires BAR, with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol, to inspect the emissions of vehicles while actually being driven on California roadways.
Why are roadside surveys necessary?
The data collected from roadside surveys provides an overview of the emissions emitted by vehicles driven on California's roads to help ensure the State is meeting federal standards for reducing ozone-forming pollution generated by motor vehicles. The data also provides useful information to evaluate and improve the performance of the Smog Check Program.
Where are roadside surveys performed?
The surveys are performed in the areas of the state with the poorest air quality, including the Central Valley, the San Francisco Bay area, the greater Los Angeles area, Inland Empire, and San Diego area. BAR randomly selects ZIP codes in these areas and then identifies suitable sites where it can safely conduct the surveys.
Who performs the roadside surveys?
Roadside surveys are performed by BAR staff. Each team generally consists of three or four individuals, all of whom are ASE certified automotive technicians.
How are the roadside surveys performed?
Vehicles selected for testing are stopped by an officer of the California Highway Patrol. The consumer is greeted by a BAR representative who provides them with information about the survey's purpose and answers any question they may have. The survey is performed in a manner similar to a Smog Check inspection and usually takes less than 10 minutes.
How do these surveys affect consumers?
Participation in the survey is voluntary. There are no consequences to consumers, regardless of their vehicle's emission control equipment or its emission levels. At the conclusion of the inspection, the participants receive a Vehicle Inspection Report (VIR) detailing the results of the test.
Does the survey take the place of a required Smog Check inspection?
No. The VIR may not be substituted for a vehicle's official Smog Check inspection report. However, the VIR does provide important information about the vehicle. BAR staff will also alert participants to any mechanical issues that are observed while conducting the inspection.

BAR appreciates your help in improving air quality in California. To learn about more ways you can help to reduce air pollution, visit

Roadside Emission Survey Consumer Information Sheet (pdf)
Evaluación Sobre Emisiones en la Carretera Hoja Informativa al Consumidor (pdf)