"We the People of the United States" are not just words from the first line of an old document. We are the people who love Jeeps, muscle cars, hot rods, street rods, tuner cars, replicas, off-road trucks, modified diesel tow rigs, and many other varieties of automotive pursuits that are as diverse as the country in which we live. We are also the people who have to work to protect our automotive passions from unnecessary, unfair, or well-intentioned but poorly written laws and regulations. Fortunately, we the people live in a country where we can still make a difference in how we are governed.
Our greatest tool in making that difference is our voice. By speaking out on issues that concern the automotive hobby, contacting our representatives, and working constructively with government officials, we have the power to protect our passion and keep it safe for future generations of auto hobbyists and enthusiasts. When legislatures are out of session, representatives are in their home districts and typically have more time to meet casually with their constituents. They are also planning for the next legislative session and deciding which bills to introduce. Contacting them now can have a tremendous impact by raising their awareness of issues that could impact our hobby during the next session. That is what makes right now the perfect time to get involved and build relationships with your legislators-so hit the gas and keep your foot down!
To get you started, we have prepared 10 tips you can use when contacting your representatives:
1 DEVELOP AND MAINTAIN RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR LEGISLATORS AND THEIR STAFF
Make contact and develop productive relationships with individual legislators. It is the most effective form of grassroots lobbying. It's also important to develop a relationship with their staff members, who monitor ongoing legislative and community initiatives.
2 EDUCATE LEGISLATORS ABOUT OUR HOBBY AND OUR ISSUES
Educate your legislator about the hobby and emphasize the positive impact it has on the community.
3 MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Develop a positive relationship with your legislator. The next time an enthusiast-related issue comes up, that same legislator may be needed to support your cause.
4 STAY INFORMED
Keep up-to-date on the legislative issues that affect the hobby in your state. Share this information with fellow enthusiasts.
5 GET INVOLVED IN THE COMMUNITY
Join with other community groups to build positive exposure. Holding charity runs and fundraisers provide a great opportunity to show local residents and politicians that auto clubs are a positive community force.
6 BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE LOCAL MEDIA
Contact local newspapers and radio/TV stations to publicize car shows, charity events, and so on.
7 INVITE OFFICIALS TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR EVENTS
Give legislators a platform to reach an audience of constituents.
8 BUILD AN AUTOMOTIVE COALITION
Create coalitions to add strength in numbers and ensure that the rights of all vehicle enthusiasts are represented. Actively participating in regional and statewide councils will develop a unified message to lawmakers. These types of pro-hobbyist groups can be an influential political force.
9 SPREAD THE WORD
Take this information to your next club meeting, cruise night or post it on your online forums. Share this information with other enthusiasts who are willing to help lobby for the hobby.
10 REGISTER TO VOTE
Exercise your right to support pro-hobby candidates. Constituents are an elected official's number-one priority. Without you and your vote of support, they would not be in office, so make sure you're registered and get out and vote.
Who's On Your Side?
State legislators around the country with a common goal to support the motor vehicle hobby have joined the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. Celebrating its five year anniversary, the Caucus is a bi-partisan group of state lawmakers whose common thread is a love and appreciation for automobiles. In Washington, SEMA works in partnership with Caucus members to amplify the message among national policy-makers that the automotive performance industry is a vital engine in today's economy, employing more than a million Americans and generating $32 billion in sales annually. The Caucus is helping to raise the motor vehicle hobby's profile in the state legislatures and in the eyes of the public. Working in state capitals, many of these legislators have sought to preserve and protect the hobby by seeking the amendment of existing motor vehicle statutes and creating new programs to safeguard and expand the hobby. Over the past several years, their work has brought a series of significant legislative accomplishments for the vehicle enthusiast community on issues ranging from equipment standards to registration classifications, and from emissions test exemptions to hobbyist rights. By joining the Caucus, these legislators have demonstrated their commitment to upholding the rights of vehicle enthusiasts. In addition, hobbyists are able to quickly identify which state legislators have chosen to be recognized for their support of this great American hobby. Approximately 450 state legislators from all 50 states are involved in the Caucus. Go to SEMASAN.com for a comprehensive list of current caucus members in your state that support your hobby.
Keep Your Trails Open
Join groups such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the National Off-Road Association, SEMA SAN, Tread Lightly, and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations. These websites and others like them provide updated info on your area. Several of them make it easy to get involved. You can be heard and help keep your trails open with only a few clicks of your computer mouse.
Gridlock and bitter partisan politics continue to persist in Washington, D.C. and in the state capitols around the country, making positive legislative action difficult. Fortunately, the SEMA Action Network (SAN) has been breaking through the gridlock and promoting legislative solutions for the automotive hobby since 1997.
The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, vehicle clubs and members of the specialty automotive parts industry in the United States and Canada who have joined forces to promote hobby-friendly legislation and oppose unfair laws. With nearly 40,000 members, 3 million contacts and an ability to reach 30 million enthusiasts through print and press, the SAN is the premier organization defending the rights of the vehicle hobby. The SAN is free to join with no obligations or commitments.
When it comes to taking the action needed to protect the automotive hobby, only the SAN has the experience, the resources, and the dedicated network of enthusiasts to stop unreasonable bills in their tracks and keep the hobby free from overly restrictive government regulation. No other organization brings such a comprehensive set of tools and resources to bear on this mission:
- A professional government affairs staff in Washington, D.C. that works in all 50 states and at the federal level.
- A full-time research staff that monitors every bill introduced in every state.
- Tailored action alerts sent to enthusiasts with bill information, speaking points, and legislator contact information.
- The SEMA SAN website which features tracked legislation, action alerts, guidance on letter writing, lobbying elected officials, land use policies, warranty denial and a means by which you can identify your legislators.
- The award winning monthly legislative newsletter - Driving Force.
- Pro-hobby model legislation crafted by SEMA SAN staff.
- The State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus - a collection of nearly 450 state legislators with a common goal to support the motor vehicle hobby.
- The Congressional Motorsports Caucus - 100 U.S. Representatives and Senators who have aligned to pay tribute to America's ever growing love affair with the car and motorsports.
The SAN is an organization dedicated to providing the tools and information necessary for hobbyists to protect their passion. To raise awareness of important issues affecting the hobby around the country, the SAN sponsors the Hot Rod Power Tour bus, travels to car shows and events, raises awareness through automotive media, operates a Facebook group and a Twitter page, and distributes issue brochures to car clubs and businesses. The SAN further supports car clubs by advertising their shows and charitable events in Driving Force.
In its 14-year history, the effect of the SAN on shaping government policy has been enormous. The SAN has successfully:
- Enacted street rod and custom vehicle (including kit cars and replicas) registration and titling laws in 20 states.
- Protected classic vehicles waiting to be restored on private property from confiscation.
- Safeguarded legal off-road nitrous oxide use with SAN model legislation.
- Defended enthusiast's right to use more durable aftermarket exhaust systems.
- Junked state level "Cash for Clunkers" legislation.
- Enacted legislation to lower taxes and fees for hobbyist vehicles.
- Advocated to ensure public lands remain open to responsible off-road recreation.
The current economic and legislative environment is emboldening governments to become more aggressive with their anti-auto hobby legislation. States are seeking new avenues for generating revenue and new ways of dictating what you can and cannot do with your vehicles. The message government is sending is clear-the hobby needs the SEMA Action Network now more than ever. Enlist now in this fellowship of auto enthusiasts, and join the SAN at SEMASAN.com
Coming Down The Pipe
New laws and regulations are constantly threatening automotive and off-road enthusiasts. Here's a look at a few things to look out for. Your help can keep any unfair and unreasonable issues from moving forward and becoming reality.
Public Land Use/Land Access, Wilderness Bills
Threats to OHV access typically take form in legislation passed by Congress or regulations issued by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or other federal and state agencies. The actions threaten recreational access, designate lands as "wilderness" (roadless), or unnecessarily close lands to protect endangered species. Public land access issues are of keen interest to off-roaders and the companies that market products to those groups. Government should establish land use restrictions decisions that are reasonable and enjoy local community support.
Emissions, Smog Check Programs
Some states are operating more stringent emission inspection and maintenance (I/M) programs. States have incorporated the OBD testing method as part of the vehicle emissions inspection for 1996 and newer vehicles. These OBD tests replace tailpipe tests by identifying emissions problems through information stored in the vehicle's on-board computer system. I/M 240 tests require visual inspection of emissions control devices, an evaporative emissions test and a transient drive-cycle exhaust emissions test, performed while the vehicle is running on rollers. Many of these state programs mistakenly fail vehicles based on the presence of aftermarket engine products and force older collector vehicles to undergo some type of testing. Policy makers must properly focus inspection procedures and not confuse legitimate aftermarket parts with emission defeat devices and tampering violations. The hobby must also pursue proactive legislative initiatives to establish exemptions from inspections for low-mileage vehicles, classic vehicles (defined as 25 years old and older) and newer vehicles.
Equipment Standards & Inspections
State policy makers continue to revise and update equipment and inspection standards-often with a bias for the vehicle manufacturer's original equipment, such as lighting, tires and wheels, suspension components, and bumper/frame height. The hobby must oppose arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive equipment and inspection procedures.
The Federal government, through NHTSA maintains the rights to set, enforce, and investigate safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. Many NHTSA regulations such as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) have a direct effect on how specialty equipment is produced and marketed, and how customers use the products. NHTSA must ensure that any regulations are necessary, practical and based on performance rather than design criteria.
New Car Emissions Inspections
It is not an effective use of resources to test newer vehicles. The results of these tests predominately demonstrate no significant threats to air quality from these vehicles. The idea behind exempting all classes of new vehicles is to reduce costs while not losing appreciable emission reductions. This strategy builds support for emission inspection programs, but also directs finite resources to where they will be most valuable in cleaning the air. New vehicles are regulated by the EPA, which provides strict emissions standards, which these vehicles have already met.
Raised Vehicle Height Regulations & Limitations/Suspension
Modifications which affect vehicle suspension and steering as well as those changing the vehicle's frame and/or bumper height continue to draw attention from regulators and legislators. Many state regulations are more restrictive than necessary. Others discriminate against aftermarket parts manufacturers and their customers by allowing the vehicle manufacturers to effectively set the frame and bumper height standards. In addition, vehicle suspension and height regulations are often so unclear that neither the industry, the motorist, nor the inspection technician has any clear guidance. The hobby must oppose state regulations targeting suspension and height modifications without regard to reasonable and useful modifications.
Many states have laws or regulations that unfairly discriminate against modified exhaust systems and apply arbitrary enforcement standards relative to muffler noise limits. We will support efforts to reduce improper citations and encourage modifications that comply with applicable state regulations and objective noise testing procedures.
"Gas Guzzler" Laws & Taxes / CAFE
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards: Drastically increased CAFE potentially limits consumer choice if manufacturers are forced to make smaller, less powerful, and less useful cars and light duty vehicles in order to meet government fuel economy demands. Market-based solutions must be employed which allow the consumer to participate in and respond to national energy policies.
Tire Fuel Efficiency
Some state legislatures are proposing the development of a program to mandate that replacement tires for passenger cars meet fuel efficiency standards. These state replacement tire efficiency programs are anti-consumer, anti-small business, and require substantial appropriations. Most importantly, state replacement tire efficiency programs often conflict with a Federal program being developed by NHTSA to rate the fuel economy, safety and durability characteristics of most replacement tires. NHTSA issued a final rule in March 2010 to establish test procedures to be used by tire manufacturers in determining tire ratings but the agency is still working out details on how the information will be conveyed to consumers at the point of sale and online. The program is required under a 2007 law which contains a SEMA provision exempting from the rating system those tires that have been produced or imported in annual units of less than 15,000, and do not exceed 35,000 tires in total brand name production. California is also working on a similar program which also contains the SEMA exemption for limited production tires (15,000 or less annually) and other specialized tires.
Severe limits on window film light transmission and reflectance percentages continue to surface in a number of states. SEMA will continue to work with the International Window Film Association to advance the industry standard of not less than 35% light transmittance on all windows other than the windshield.
Policy makers in some states are beginning to apply a new approach to optional and auxiliary lighting equipment that essentially prohibits all such lights if not specifically permitted in the regulations. Poorly written legislation and regulations can confuse the issues of a clear safety hazard and consumer demand for legitimate and safe lighting enhancement. Regulators are also scrutinizing blue-hued headlamps, some of which the federal government has declared illegal for operation on the nation's roadways for excessive glare. Government officials are also concerned about non-compliant High Intensity Discharge headlamp conversion systems, clear taillamp covers, marker lamps, and bulbs.