Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: Sacramento motorists run into surprise roadside smog checks

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

Travelers have rules-of-the-road questions for our Back-seat Driver. He has answers – with help from friends.

A reader was headed to work when the CHP waved him over for a roadside smog check. It took five minutes. His car passed. But he wonders, what was that all about?

State Bureau of Automotive Repair spokesman Russ Heimerich said officials conduct voluntary spot checks to see if “real world” car emissions match data that smog check stations send them. In the real world, cars are dirtier than smog check inspections show. That is because there is some cheating, but mainly officials say it’s because some owners get their vehicle just healthy enough to pass inspection, then let the engine slide back to its polluting ways.

The state is using some of those roadside tests to check out a new smog technique, based on the car’s “onboard diagnostic sensor” readings. The state plans to launch that new system later this year. The state does not think the new test will be harder to pass. Currently, about 12 percent of the state’s cars fail their smog test the first time around.

A caller says: I see big trucks with lug nuts on their wheels 6 inches long. They look deadly, like out of a James Bond movie! Are there rules on how long these things can be?

Indeed, we’ve seen scary-looking 41/2-inch decorative, spike-shaped, lug nut covers out there. But they don’t appear to protrude farther than the wheel well. California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Gibbons said regulations say trucks can’t be wider than 102 inches total (8.5 feet), including lug nuts. Our take: If find yourself close enough to a truck to get snagged by those nut covers, you have bigger problems.

Reader Steve Cameron asked for clarification on when motorcyclists can and can’t zip past cars on freeway onramps, as a service to motorcyclists – and drivers who “shake their fists at motorcyclists .”

It’s complicated. If there is an HOV lane, motorcyclists are allowed to cut ahead (safely) and don’t have to stop at the meter line, as long as they split between two lanes, and not on the shoulders, CHP Officer Cindy Leal says. But, if instead of an HOV lane, there are two regular metered lanes with a “one vehicle per green” sign, motorcyclists should wait in line with the other vehicles. We’re told it’s best for motorcyclists to wait toward the side of their lane to avoid a rear-end crash, which is the most common crash on an onramp.

If the car in front of you stops at a light or stop sign before turning right, and you stop behind it, are you required to stop again when you reach the crosswalk, or does your initial stop, a few feet back, count?

Interesting idea, but no go. Roseville Police Sgt. David Sloane says each car must stop at the limit line before turning right, regardless of whether it already stopped behind another car. The vehicle code says drivers must stop at a marked limit line. If there is no marked limit line or crosswalk, you have to stop at the intersection entrance.