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NewsSustainabilityTop StoriesTruckingTrucking Regulation

California approves new smog testing regime, relying heavily on telematics

Program that is being replaced had an exemption for single-owner trucks; that break is gone in the new rules

Truck owners in California, large or small, will face a more frequent requirement of a new type of smog testing under a regulation approved Thursday by the state’s Air Resources Board. 

Under the new “smog check” regulation approved by the California Air Resources Board,  medium and heavy-duty trucks operating in the state will be required twice a year to report results of each truck’s particulate and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions to the state. CARB said in a statement that the reporting requirement could be met by using data gathered from most trucks’ onboard diagnostic systems.

“For telematics users, an onboard diagnostics inspection that draws emissions control performance data from the vehicle’s internal computer (allows) an inspection (to) be completed automatically without taking the vehicle out of operation,” CARB said. .

The onboard diagnostics that are key to the new CARB requirement became standard equipment on new trucks starting with the 2013 model year. 

The reporting and gathering system is not completely virtual. CARB said it will set up a statewide network of “roadside emissions monitors to screen for high emitting trucks.” The first monitors will be  in the San Joaquin Valley and the state’s South Coast.

CARB also said random testing and inspections will be carried out at a number of locations, including border crossings, weigh stations, at fleets and “randomly selected roadside locations.”

The state currently conducts smoke inspections to measure the amount of particulates coming from a truck’s smokestack,  However, independent owner-operators with a single truck are exempt.  That exemption is gone in the new smog check regulation. 

Although the program will start with a requirement that trucks report their exhaust emission test results twice a year, the program is eventually expected to ramp up to four inspections per year. The twice-yearly testing requirement will start in 2024 after a phase-in period.

The new rules implement SB 210, a state law passed in 2019, that mandated a new comprehensive inspection and maintenance program for heavy-duty trucks to more effectively control emissions. 

Chris Shimoda, vice president of government affairs at the California Trucking Associations, said there are challenges to converting the diagnostic systems to a form that can easily and unobtrusively be sent to the state, unobtrusively..

Shimoda noted that trucks will need a “scanning tool” that would enable easy gathering of the data required by CARB. “The makers of those devices will need to get CARB certified,” Shimoda said of the process, which could take several years.

Last month, the American Trucking Associations and the CTA  jointly asked the state for several considerations. Some of the requests are narrowly tailored, such as the legal rules governing responsibility for rented vehicles, and the calendar for setting the base compliance year.

Others are broader, such as a request for a “soft enforcement period.” Noting that many of the trucks that are subject to the rule only infrequently come to the state, “an enhanced education effort is needed during the initial program rollout.” The letter also asks that enforcement should “initially focus on education, awareness and compliance rather than issuing citations during the initial six months of reporting and testing.”

“CARB is establishing additional testing options as well for fleets that may not want use the telematics option, including the ability to purchase a handheld testing device to perform OBD inspections and/or hire a trained entity to perform the test for them,” a CARB spokeswoman said in an email to FreightWaves.

The goal, she added, is “to provide fleets multiple options so they can choose which testing option makes the most sense for their fleet’s day to day operation.”

When asked what the CTA saw as the biggest problems in the new rule, Shimoda pointed to the jump in reporting requirements from two times per year in the beginning of the program to four times per year by 2026 or 2027. Shimoda said the calendar for that four times per year requirement is somewhat unclear. 

“We would argue that is way over testing, because CARB’s own data shows nine out of every 10 trucks are operating the way they are supposed to,” Shimoda said.

The CARB spokeswoman suggested the number is somewhat higher. “In current field testing, staff has seen about 11-17% of (heavy duty) vehicles operating in (California) with an illuminated malfunction indicator light,” she said, using the more formal term for a “check engine” light that signals problems with the emission system. “Success in regard to this program would be to see this percentage drop substantially and vehicles operating at the emissions levels they were designed to meet.”

And she suggested that the check engine light is often being ignored. The program, she said, “will require the vehicle owner to act upon this notification and get the needed repairs to fix the issue that was identified by the (light).”

Shiimoda said the current smoke opacity testing will need to continue for vehicles built prior to the 2013 models, as those trucks will not have the onboard diagnostics necessary to perform what is permitted under the new rules. 

The fundamental push in the regulation and the greater testing is due to the disproportionate amount of air pollution contributed by the trucking sector in the state. According to CARB, heavy-duty trucks in California account for about 3% of the vehicles on the road but contribute just over 50% of the state’s emissions of nitrous oxide and particulate matter 2.5.  

Kelli Block, a partner with the transportation focused law firm of Scopelitis Garvey Light Hanson & Feary, noted that a truck found not in compliance with the rules can have its California registration revoked. Since that is not a penalty available to penalize trucking companies from out of state, she said out of state companies face citations for noncompliance and that the federal Environmental Protection Agency also can work to enforce compliance. 

Block also questioned whether problems in supply chains would allow the state and its carriers to obtain an adequate supply of the devices needed for trucks to readily access the data in onboard diagnostics, as well as the equipment needed for the roadside monitoring facilities. 

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.

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  4. Really California?
    This is from the state that sends heavy smoke from its yearly fires across the country.
    This is also from the state that is crying because of supply chain issues.
    Does anyone in this state even THINK about what they’re doing?
    Insane.

    1. Really RheumTrucker? No state is responsible for smoke from accidental fires, so to say they “send heavy smoke” is ridiculously uninformed and irresponsible. Forest fires are part of what they deal with, just like other parts of the country deal with other terrible natural phenomena. The supply chain issues are also not their fault, as the ports are federally controlled, and even the federal government cannot just snap their fingers to correct supply chain issues that were solely caused by a worldwide pandemic. You might be a trucker, but you are failing to grasp anything about the complexities of worldwide and national supply chains, so please educate yourself.

  5. Hello.

    The correct word is “regimen” not “regime”. A good proofreader is invaluable, but from other articles I’ve seen on Freightwaves, looks like they don’t have the budget for it. Sad for such a respected publication.