Routine smog checkpoints impede California roads in broad daylight

A smog checkpoint in Lamont, CA. (Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield)
A smog checkpoint in Lamont, CA.  (Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield)
A smog checkpoint in Lamont, CA. (Source: ABC 23 Bakersfield)

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.


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