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New California Remote Sensing Program to Spot, then Fix or Scrap Gross-Polluting Cars

California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District approved on Friday a landmark $4-million voluntary program to detect highly polluting passenger vehicles and provide incentives to repair them or scrap and replace them. AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The $4-million pilot program is the only one in the nation to include both remote sensing and a voluntary repair/replacement component. Remote sensing of 1 million vehicles, followed by repair and scrapping of about 1,000 to 2,000 of the highest-emitting ones is expected to begin early next year and last about 12 months.

Gross-polluting vehicles make up about 10 percent of the passenger vehicle fleet, and yet they are responsible for at least 50 percent of the air pollution from that fleet. For the first time, we will be identifying these gross polluters and giving motorists an incentive to repair or replace their vehicles

—William A. Burke, Governing Board Chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District

Remote sensing devices measure a vehicle’s emissions by projecting beams of both infrared and ultraviolet light across a roadway such as a freeway on-ramp. As a vehicle passes by, its tailpipe emissions absorb some of the light. A sensor receives the light after it passes through the tailpipe emissions and a computer calculates the vehicle’s emissions level. At the same time, a video camera captures the vehicle’s license plate and a computer logs and digitizes the emissions and license plate information.

The program includes four main components:

  • Remote Sensing. A remote sensing contractor, to be selected later this year, will collect emissions data from 1 million individual vehicles (about 10% of all vehicles in the region). The multiple sensing sites will not be publicized and will be rotated on an unannounced basis to ensure a representative sampling of the region’s vehicles.

  • Testing and Repair or Scrapping. The Foundation for California Community Colleges will perform voluntary testing and repair of high-emitting vehicles. The Sacramento-based foundation is an independent entity that currently provides the referee function for the state’s Smog Check program. Using the remote sensing data, the foundation will contact owners of the dirtiest 1%–2% of vehicles tested and offer them the opportunity to receive either up to $500 in repairs or $1,000 to scrap it. The foundation will perform all emissions testing and repairs. All engines, emissions- and drive train-related components of vehicles turned in for scrapping will be permanently destroyed.

  • Vehicle Replacement for Low-Income Residents. Residents who meet state low-income guidelines will be eligible to qualify for an additional funding up to $2,000, for a total of up to $3,000, if they choose to scrap their vehicle and replace it with a used, certified low-emissions vehicle. Market data shows that used vehicles meeting the state’s Low Emission Vehicle criteria are available for $2,000 to $3,000. Residents would receive either a voucher or reimbursement upon proof of purchase of a LEV or cleaner vehicle.

  • Public outreach and data analysis.

AQMD’s program is funded by AB 923 (Firebaugh), approved by the Governor last fall. The bill authorized the use of designated vehicle registration fees for various mobile source emission reduction programs.

Of the $4 million allocated, $1 million is designated for remote sensing; $1 million for testing and repair; $1 million for scrapping and replacement; $700,000 for additional repair, scrapping and replacement, depending on demand; and $300,000 for public outreach and data analysis.

(A hat-tip to Joe Deely!)



This sounds like a promising program, I hope it works well in getting the worst polluters off the road that otherwise fall through the cracks.


I wish there were better national restrictions on diesel trucks. I we have sand and gravel trucks in our area and they leave the largest amount of crud in their wake.


What if they catch the Governator in his diesel Hummer? What about pre 1973 restored vehicles? Would they call for the scrapping of all those classics and custom hot rods LA is so fond of?


In California, you have to bring your vehicle in for a smog check every two years, in order to get it registered. Why wouldn't that suffice to detect high polluting vehicles? Why build this elaborate system of on-road sensors?


Because you dont need to get old cars smog checked and if it costs too much to repair a car you dont have to.


We have mandatory emissions testing here as well, but it's really easy to avoid if you know how to work the loopholes.


Well, they should eliminate the loopholes for old cars, and then if the cars fail the tests, they should use the same incentives they are planning for this new program to get them off the road. The point is that it is stupid to build roadside sensors and some kind of camera to try to figure out which cars are polluting, when you can just do the tests as part of the annual registration process as it is now. That seems much more efficient and less haphazard.


I tend to agree with Hal on this one.

I'm less than thrilled with the idea of the state taking measurements of my property without my knowledge or any opportunity of "due process." I'm also not thrilled with the state measuring where I am at any time or another, and recording that information.

I like the idea of pulling the worst polluters off the road by providing incentives. But, I don't see how the value of random sampling on the roads outweighs the costs of a government invading privacy unnecessarily.

Harvey D

The idea seems to be an excellent way to keep high pollution vehicles off the road, specially if coupled with meaningful penalties and applied to ALL vehicle types including trucks, tractors, buses, large 4 x 4 etc. Revenues from such penalties and other pollution type taxes could rightfully be used to 'partially' subsidize the upgrade and/or replacement of older polluting vehicles with greener units. This type of pro-active action is required to accellerate the polution and oil consumption reduction program. As users should pay so should polluters.

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