If you’ve found yourself on one of the many on and off ramps in Northern Virginia, you’ve undoubtedly accidentally come upon a roadside emissions test. You can typically tell since the roadside sign warns you that your vehicle is quickly approaching one to two forest green boxes with sniffers pointed at your exhaust.
Most “modded car guys” who love to hear the sound of their engine over the radio dread these roadside mobile emissions tests thinking that their intended purpose is to generate ticket revenue through fines for vehicles with high emissions. But no fear – these emissions testers can’t actually issue tickets (more on that later), but rather a handy alternative to driving the whip to a gas station for the biennial emissions test required in the state. The temporary roadside sniffers have been implemented since December 2015 and are run by a third party entity called RapidPASS (owned by ETEST).
Driven by the Virginia air quality initiative, Air Check Virginia, the RapidPASS equipment enables qualified, compliant drivers registered in the state of Virginia (vehicles registered out of state will not be tested or notified) to simply drive past the emission tester to receive an emissions test without having to go to the local mechanic’s shop. If your vehicle passes, you will be mailed a qualification letter that you can enter online through RapidPASS’s online portal to pay the fee of $28 and receive your emissions inspection certification.
To qualify, the RapidPASS website recommends driving past the mobile testers frequently starting 120 days before your emissions test is due (before that time, you will not receive a qualification letter as this is too early to apply for vehicle emissions test in VA). Drivers can find the ever-changing locations of the sniffers from the RapidPASS website. Note – the testers are affected by inclement weather, so check before you head out if rain’s in the forecast.
“But I’ve driven past these and never received a letter?” You may not have registered on the system (which is why they recommend driving by more than once), or perhaps you didn’t pass. If you think you may not be eligible for the roadside test despite driving past one, you can check via their site – you’ll need your license plate number and the last 4 digits of your VIN.
“There are 15 emissions systems that will be set up in more than 150 locations across the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford as well as the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. Only residents of these communities are required to have emissions testing done on their vehicles in Virginia,” via WTOP.
According to their website, “RAPIDPASS systems are set up along single-lane sections of traveled roadway where individual vehicle exhaust emissions can be tested and evaluated for RAPIDPASS program qualification. Typical RAPIDPASS locations include on-ramps to highways where individual vehicles can be tested in a suitable mode of operation.”
Still think you should have passed but never received a letter? The emissions pass factors in a few different things including the vehicle’s speed at the time, a readable photo of the license plate, the temperature of the vehicle (colder vehicles = high polution levels) and the acceleration of the vehicle when passing an emissions tester. They make a note on their site that this information is only used for emissions testing (no speeding tickets here). How to drive past the sniffers? “Accelerate moderately as you drive through the RAPIDPASS system. Moderate acceleration helps to produce an adequate and representative sample of your vehicle’s exhaust emissions. Deceleration or heavy acceleration may result in a test that cannot be used to qualify the vehicle for the RAPIDPASS program.”
So Can These Testers Issue Tickets?
So – what’s the catch? Why are the roadside emissions testers “mostly” good and not all good? If you are considered a gross polluter after driving past an emissions station, you’ll be issued a Notice of Violation of Exhaust Emissions Standards for Remote Sensing (holy mouthful).
From the DMV website, “You have received a Notice of Violation (Notice) of Exhaust Emissions Standards for Remote Sensing from DEQ showing a determination by remote sensing equipment that your vehicle is emitting excessive pollution.
Within 30 days of the date of this Notice, your vehicle must have either passed an emissions inspection or received an emissions inspection waiver. If the vehicle is equipped with an on-board diagnostic (OBDII) system, the vehicle must pass both types of tests (OBDII and exhaust emissions). The first step in this process is to present the vehicle to an emissions inspection station for an emissions inspection “Confirmation Test.” This emissions inspection will determine if the vehicle is actually in need of emissions repair. The station may charge a fee for this test if the vehicle fails.
In order to meet the requirements of the Notice, the vehicle must pass the emissions inspection or receive an emissions inspection waiver within 30 days of the Notice. If you don’t meet this deadline, you may be required to pay the civil charge listed on the Notice.”
If you decide to pay the civil charge, you can find information on paying it here.