Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Davis County, Utah Proposes To Monitor Vehicle Emissions Without I/M Testing; Could It Work For South Central Alaska As Well?

In July 2008, the Anchorage Municipal Assembly chose to reverse a previous decision to discontinue mandating I/M vehicle emission testing and decided to keep the program in place, while making a few cosmetic changes. Instead of accepting the conservative argument that its success warranted its elimination because it had fulfilled its purpose, the Assembly chose to accept the liberal argument that its success warranted its continuation.

One objection to the I/M testing program is that it's disruptive. One must take time away from other activities to get it done. However, Davis County in Utah, under the gun for possible excessive particle emissions, has found a way to monitor vehicle emissions without requiring motorists to automatically take their vehicle in to be tested periodically. In fact, if your vehicle meets emission standards, you would NEVER be required to take your vehicle in to be tested.

The catch - you would have to allow a $50 transmitter to be installed on your vehicle.

Here's how it would work. A transmitter, estimated to cost around $50, can be installed on vehicles with an onboard diagnostics program, which is the chip in the vehicle's engine that constantly measures its emissions data. The transmitter could broadcast that data to special receivers in Davis County. If the data reached a certain polluting level, the receiver could notify the health department, which could then inform the driver of the polluting vehicle by mail. Media stories from the Deseret News and KSL Channel 5, with video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

The five counties constituting Utah's Wasatch Front (Cache, Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties) are expected to have difficulty in meeting the new Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 standard of 35 micrograms per meter, a reduction from the old 65 mcg. They have three years to come up with a plan to reach the new standard. Davis County's initiative is designed to help reach that goal.

Some of the issues which must be worked out in advance include possible privacy issues, whether in-car transmitters would be mandatory or voluntary and how the transmitters would change revenue and expenditure patterns. Private stations that perform vehicle inspections might object because of the possibility of losing appreciable revenue if everyone switched to transmitters. But not everyone would necessarily be able to switch to transmitters; vehicles without onboard diagnostic chips could not use the transmitters.

Alaskans might be more resistant to this technology than Utahns. Anchorage is one of the few cities to abandon a photo radar program after a community-wide outcry arose against it. Many objected most strongly to the fact that the photo radar contractor was keeping 70 percent of the fines, so technophobia was not the central issue. But there's also an issue with "refereeing"; how could one verify whether or not a transmitter's working properly, and how could one appeal the process?

Still, the idea seems promising enough to be worthy of a public airing. This could effectively bridge the respective arguments for and against I/M testing.

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