One interesting little sidetrack I got stuck on while I was reporting this story was the 1-800-Exhaust program. Maybe you've seen the billboards along I-80 near the Bay Bridge? If not, you will soon. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (the same people who bring you Spare the Air days) has kicked off a new campaign to promote the program. In a nutshell, it allows you to call in (or go online) and report the license plate numbers of cars that seem to be spewing more smoke than they should be.
Then what happens?
Well, some people might be disappointed to hear that there are no punitive consequences for these drivers. No fines, no demand that they report to the nearest smog check station, stat. Instead, the car's registered owner gets a letter in the mail – one BAAQMD spokesman I talked to called it an "informal survey" -- asking, among other things, whether the car has been repaired. The response, so far, has been pretty underwhelming.
Last year, just over 10,000 cars were reported, and 10,000 letters sent out. Less than a hundred came back. Twelve people said that their cars had been repaired (it's not clear how many of them had already repaired the cars, and how many did so after receiving the letters).