Have You Heard About OBD III?
With the recent approval of regulations governing on-board diagnostics (OBD) information availability, the Automotive Service Association (ASA) as been pleased with the cooperation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the development of information transfer to repairers. ASA was a strong advocate of independent service shop owners and technicians having access to the same information accessible to new car dealers. The EPA protected these rights in its draft information availability rule and in the final rule published last summer.
One area of concern has been the recent discussion surrounding a waiver of federal preemption to permit California to implement its own OBD regulations. The serious question for independent repairers has been whether our rights will be protected as strongly as in the federal regulations. This is an issue ASA is discussing with regulators and other members of the aftermarket. ASA will make a decision in the near future as to a California strategy on the waiver.
As the OBD II (federal OBD uses the same basic technical standards as California OBD II) debate comes to a close, speculation is already mounting about an OBD III concept in California. OBD III is being discussed as a program to minimize the delay between the detection of an emissions malfunction by the OBD II system and the actual repair of the vehicle.
This includes a reading of stored OBD II information from in-use vehicles and the direction to owners of vehicles with fault codes to make immediate repairs. In this concept, faults are picked up by a monitoring technology and reported to a regulator, and the vehicle owner is then directed to get further testing and possible repairs.
The debate over controlling vehicle emissions may soon move from what type of testing facilities and test methods are most effective to the complete on-board cycle of fault detection, notification and follow-up testing and repair being discussed in the OBD-III concept.
What types of technology can be used to detect and relay data pertaining to emissions malfunctions? Options include roadside readers, local station networks or satellites. The roadside reader has been tested by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) since 1994. It is capable of reading eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at 100 miles per hour. It can be used from a fixed location with portable units or a mobile unit. If a fault is detected by a reader unit, it has the capability of sending the vehicle identification number (VIN) plus the fault codes to the regulator. (The term regulator is used broadly here--patrol officers, private contractors or others could be involved, depending on how a program is structured.) The local station network has not been tested by CARB, but would allow a location and monitoring service.
The satellite system can be used with a cellular phone hookup or location monitoring technology. The vehicle would receive an alert via a cellular phone or the monitoring technology. The location, date, time, VIN and OBD II data would be returned to a satellite beacon.
Several issues surround the OBD III concept. From a regulatory perspective, all of the technologies used, other than roadside technology, require a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license. The possibility of interference with other signals in the same band is of concern. The issues of commercial operators, law enforcement, jurisdiction among state agencies, Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, etc., have to be addressed before OBD III is a reality.
How would an OBD-III program prompt further testing and possible repair?
An OBD-III program could be incorporated into the current inspection and maintenance (I/M) program. OBD III might also be used to generate an "out-of-cycle" inspection. Once a fault is detected, a notice could be mailed to the vehicle owner requiring an out-of-cycle inspection within a certain number of days or at the next registration or resale, or a citation would be issued. Penalties might include court appearances or fines related to vehicle registration.
A roadside pullover might work this way: the monitoring technology detects a fault, a law enforcement officer stops the vehicle with the fault code, and a technician working with the officer at the scene verifies that a code is set.
A citation is then issued requiring testing at a test center, with a time limit for the vehicle owner to do this before a penalty is incurred.
What legal issues arise under OBD III?
There seems to be some question as to the "suspicionless mass "surveillance" of private property. There is no opportunity to confront or rebut the results; no notice that the vehicle will be tested. Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues tend to arise.
There are obviously technologies and enforcement procedures available to support the OBD III concept. Do the public health arguments as to controlling the severity of air pollution override the constitutional privacy questions involved? What about consent? These are questions that will undoubtedly arise, and could bring a court challenge.
After several court battles with OBD II, the issues are still unsettled as to the California waiver. I/M programs are still to be finalized in several states and the threat of congressional action looms. The concept of bringing all the issues under one program will certainly be controversial, but is being discussed as far as a long-term policy. Independent repairers need to prepare for the next waive of emissions and information issues as they continue to participate in the current debate involving the same.
ASA is working with regulators and other members of the aftermarket to ensure that the independent repairers' interests are included as long-term policies are developed.
-Bob Redding is ASA's Washington representative. He holds a law degree from the George Washington University School of Law.