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At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, Washington’s vehicle emissions check program officially ended, marking the close of 38 years of emissions testing on cars and trucks in major metropolitan areas.

When state licensing offices reopened Jan. 2, emissions tests were no longer required in order to renew vehicle registrations. 

“When we began the emission check program back in 1982, air pollution from carbon monoxide and ozone was a serious concern in many of our biggest cities,” said Kathy Taylor, manager of the Air Quality program for the Washington Department of Ecology, which oversees the emission check program. “Today, new cars are much, much cleaner than in decades past, which means we can continue to improve our state’s air quality without these regular tests.”

Washington’s Legislature set the wheels in motion to end the testing program back in 2005 when it adopted more stringent emissions standards for new cars and trucks. Those standards took effect in 2008, and vehicles 2009 and newer were exempted from the testing requirement. Vehicles older than 25 years are also exempt, which has meant a shrinking pool of cars are still subject to the requirement — total annual tests have declined from a peak of about 1.3 million to roughly 750,000 in 2018. 

Even without a testing requirement, it remains illegal in Washington to drive a vehicle with modified emissions controls, and drivers can be ticketed if their vehicle smokes or poses a threat to public health. 

The end of the testing program will have little effect on Washington’s efforts to fight climate change. The testing program was always aimed at toxic forms of air pollution like carbon monoxide, rather than the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are the primary drivers of climate change.

Closing the program will affect about 180 people statewide that work for Applus, a contractor that operates the testing stations for the state, and a dozen employees at Ecology, plus several independent testing stations and certified repair facilities. Applus and Ecology have been working with their staff members to help them prepare for the shutdown, and find other positions when possible.

 “We want to thank our staff and our partners for their efforts,” Taylor said, “but most of all, we want to thank Washington drivers for doing their part to maintain their cars and protect the air we all breathe.” 

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