Equipment Standards & Inspections
The federal government, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has the right to set, enforce, and investigate safety standards for new motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. These "Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards" (FMVSS) are performance-based. They do not dictate design elements. For example, the federal lighting standard prescribes the photometric requirements for a headlamp, but does not dictate shape or size.
The FMVSS covers basic types of equipment (e.g. tires, rims, headlamps/taillamps, brake hoses, etc.) and establishes vehicle crashworthiness requirements (front and side impact, roof crush resistance, fuel system integrity, etc.).
Emissions and emissions-related parts are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various state agencies, primary of which is the California Air Resources Board (CARB). For products sold in California (and states that have adopted the California standards), manufacturers must conform to standards issued by CARB.
Federal law prohibits states from issuing motor vehicle safety regulations that conflict with federal standards. This is called federal preemption. However, states are free to enact and enforce safety and equipment regulations, which are identical to the FMVSS or, in the absence of a federal rule, establish their own laws and regulations. The most frequent examples of individual state rules cover parts like "optional" or "accessory" lighting equipment, noise levels for exhaust and stereo systems, suspension height, and window-tinting. States also establish rules on how a vehicle is titled and registered. They have the authority to regulate inoperable vehicles or determine whether an enthusiast is engaged in a business vs. private activity. State and local law enforcement officials issue tickets and inspect cars.
Some state laws allow motorists to be ticketed when an officer has made a subjective noise level determination that the exhaust system is "louder than what the car came with." Opposing arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive equipment and inspection laws is a constant challenge.
Nitrous Oxide & Power Adders
The hobby must work with legislators to mitigate legislation banning the installation of power adder systems, including nitrous oxide systems intended for off-road/track use. The SEMA model bill uses language that provides for the operation of a vehicle equipped for nitrous oxide, so long as the nitrous oxide is disconnected from the engine when the vehicle is anywhere other than the track.
Gas Guzzler Laws
Gas guzzler laws primarily come out of misguided attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a New York bill seeks to establish a progressive purchase or lease surcharge for certain new vehicles based on calculations of carbon emissions. Depending on the vehicle purchased, this surcharge could require owners to pay up to $2,500 more for a vehicle. Another bill in New York recommends higher toll and registration fees for vehicles based on a vehicle's weight, emissions, and fuel-efficiency rating.
In California, a measure was recently defeated that added a surcharge to certain vehicles based on state calculations of carbon emissions. If such an effort were successful, the effects on a consumer's ability to purchase their vehicle of choice, not to mention vehicle safety, would be dramatic.