Friday, June 22, 2007

The Folly of the Illinois Air Team

This article was originally published on Jan. 29th, 2007 at

As many of you know, I am an environmental advocate. I’m all for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and clean land to live on, farm and recreate upon. Recently, however, something happened to my family that made me realize just how wrong it is for the government to mandate checks of auto emissions.
My wife has an old beater in the driveway which she hasn’t driven in months. When she got the paperwork telling her she needed to take the car to the emission test facility, known in Illinois as the "Air Team," to get it checked for emissions, she filled out the required section and sent it back to the state explaining the car was undriveable. We thought that was that. My wife works about a mile and a half from our house. It takes her maybe five minutes to get to or from work. Recently a police officer pulled her over as she left her place of employment. She was pulled over for driving on a suspended license. It turns out the state never received the paperwork she sent in for her beater. Her license was suspended because she hadn’t taken the undriveable car into the emission test facility. They had to call a police officer who knew how to drive a stick shift so he could move the vehicle twenty five feet around a corner and park it. She had to call her father to come pick her up. She then had to spend all day on the phone talking to government bureaucrats until she found the right person to deal with on this issue. She works nights, so she lost most of her sleep time that day. This would be equivalent to you or me having to start calling around 10 or 11 pm (assuming that’s about bedtime) and staying awake until 3 or 4 in the morning when you have to wake up at 6 to go to work. When she reached the proper department and told the lady on the other end what had happened the lady told her “We don’t handle drunk driving cases here.” That shows how much these government workers pay attention. My wife had to explain the situation to her once again. When the woman finally understood what was going on she got the proper wheels in motion. She explained to my wife that her license would be reinstated after three days. For that time she hitched rides from her dad and daughter to and from work. If she hadn’t been able to find a ride for whatever reason, she would have had to have missed work for those days. As it was, three days later she was able to drive again.
I’ve never been in favor of emission testing, even though I’m in favor of cleaning up the environment and keeping it clean. The reasons I’m against emissions testing are many. First off, it’s unfair to those who can least afford it. If someone needs a car to get to work and can only afford a beater, what makes them think these people can afford to get the car fixed if it doesn’t measure up to their standards? They may have to decide between getting their car fixed and paying for food, or medicine, or heat in their apartment. It’s laws like these that can push someone on the edge over it and into homelessness. I know some of you might think that’s extreme, but how many homeless people have you talked to lately? How many have you asked what finally caused them to become homeless? At one point in time my car was repossessed and as a result I was very close to homelessness. If it hadn’t been for the support of my father, I would have been.
It’s also a federal law and yet not everyone in the nation has to follow it. You only have to take a car in to have it checked if you live in a more populated area. That’s not right. I’m not for this law at all, but if it’s going to be a federal law than anyone who lives in the United States of America should have to follow it regardless of how many other people live in their area. Another problem is that the government is forcing people to do something most do not want to do. How many people actually want to go spend time at the emission testing center? The government forces this with the threat of suspended licenses, fines and even jail time if the situation gets out of hand. Finally, how much pollution is truly being stopped with this law? What percentage of people who own polluting cars wouldn’t get them fixed if they were giving them trouble? One of the reasons given for the law is that people keep their cars in better condition. That’s fine if you have the money, but if you’ve lost your job or have sudden medical bills, fixing a car because of emissions might not be high on one’s priority list. The state of Illinois requires a minimum of $450 in repair bills for a polluting car before they’ll waive the inspection. That can be a lot of money for someone going through some rough times. If the government is truly serious about stopping pollution, wouldn’t it be a better idea to mandate zero emission vehicles? Not that I’m in favor of any government mandate, but the technology is there. Battery operated cars have vastly improved over the last few years and those that have owned them loved them. Don’t believe me? Watch “Who Killed the Electric Car?” If these cars were just allowed to be put on the market I’m sure people would voluntarily buy them by the thousands and I would venture a guess that within a decade we would not have to worry about pollution from cars anymore. That would save everyone money on gas and would make these intrusive laws obsolete. It would also result in much cleaner air in many areas. Perhaps I’m just tired of the government getting involved in every little aspect of my life, but it seems these mandates do nothing but make already huge corporations more money.
So, I get home from work a couple of days back and my wife tells me she had to go to court that day for driving on a suspended license. I had thought the whole nasty episode was over, but I was wrong. She then informed me that she had to pay $175. I was flabbergasted. A hundred and seventy five dollars is a lot of groceries. We are all ready on a tight budget. I told her I thought the ruling was ridiculous. She agreed, saying the judge had informed her that it didn’t matter that she didn’t know her license was suspended. Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law. He also told her that she needed proof that she had sent her paperwork in, that she needed a certified mail receipt to show someone from the state had received it. There’s more proof that in this system you have to prove your innocence. I had thought it was the other way around. I had thought the state had to prove her guilty. So now we have to send certified mail with a return receipt every time we do business with the state? I would think the state should have to show a certified mail receipt to show that she had received notice that if she didn’t bring her car in her license would be suspended. I would think they should have to issue some kind of warning via certified mail to show up for a hearing or her license would be suspended. Where’s the justice? How do we know some mailman somewhere isn’t dumping the mail in some forest preserve? It’s been known to happen. We could appeal the ruling, but that would cost us thousands. I know that some of you might think it’s just a little thing and I shouldn’t complain about it, but all these little things add up to tyranny. Some bureaucrat loses or fails to properly record paperwork and we end up paying for it. We pay for their bungling, their ineptitude. My wife just smiled and paid the fine. She shrugged it off as the state robbed her. If some guy on the street had pulled a gun on her and taken her money they would have been all over him, dragging him in front of the judge as fast as they could catch him, but they can do essentially the same thing and there’s nothing we can do about it without spending more money. Frankly, I’m sick of it. I can only hope and pray that our day is coming and that one day the common man will again live in true freedom without government interference.

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