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Federal Regulators Could Be Empowered To Enter Your Property To Inspect Your Cars

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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President Barack Obama’s $302 billion transportation bill gives federal regulators the power to enter the premises of car dealerships to determine if their vehicles are in compliance with federal fuel-economy mandates.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) could see its vehicle inspection authority expanded if Congress passes Obama’s Grow America Act. Currently, DOT officials are only allowed to inspect records and information from companies that must comply with federal fuel economy standards.

But Obama’s bill would allow federal bureaucrats to enter the premises of car dealerships to physically inspect to see if vehicles are in compliance with federal fuel economy standards.

“What this amendment does is clarify that the agency has authority, for example, to enter dealership premises in order to measure the footprint of a new vehicle and confirm that it is consistent with what the manufacturer has reported to us the footprint of that vehicle should be,” a representative for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an emailed statement.

The NHTSA is in charge of making sure that new vehicles actually meet federal fuel economy requirements as reported by auto makers. NHTSA said that automakers, not dealerships, are liable for vehicles not meeting fuel economy standards.

The bill “does not hold dealers liable, in any way, for variations in vehicle footprint, nor does it impose any kind of criminal penalty on anyone,” NHTSA added.

Federal fuel-economy standards — called Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE — require vehicles to get 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by 2025 as part of an effort to decrease the country’s reliance on oil and help fight global warming.

The DOT’s CAFE standards were set in tandem with the Environmental Protection Agency, which argues that raising CAFE standards will result in more carbon dioxide emissions being offset, helping the climate.

In February, Obama issued an executive order for the DOT and EPA to start establishing fuel-economy standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks, building on existing CAFE standards set for 2018. Obama said new fuel-economy rules would save drivers $50 billion in fuel costs and reduce oil consumption by 530 million barrels.

Obama’s new transportation bill would use billions of taxpayer dollars to fund new transportation and infrastructure projects and enforcing regulations. For example, the bill would allow federal regulators to increase penalties to companies that don’t recall their vehicles quickly enough.

“As the nation’s top regulator of the automotive industry, we hold manufacturers accountable for defect and compliance issues regarding their products and are seeking to further our ability to do so in the future, including increasing civil penalty limits nearly 10 times to $300 million,” said David Friedman, NHTSA’s acting administrator.

This, of course, is in addition to NHTSA’s authority to enter the premises of dealerships to make sure vehicles are in compliance with federal law. The bill allows federal officials to “enter and inspect with reasonable promptness premises in which a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment is manufactured, held for introduction in interstate commerce, or held for sale after introduction in interstate commerce” in order to “inspect with reasonable promptness that vehicle or equipment.” Federal officials may also “impound for not more than 72 hours that vehicle or equipment.”

“This change in President Obama’s new transportation bill, amends the part of the statute that has long given the agency authority to inspect records and obtain information from persons regulated under the CAFE, [medium-duty and heavy-duty] fuel efficiency, and new vehicle fuel economy labeling programs,” NHTSA told TheDCNF.

“Dealers are not directly subject to fuel economy requirements – fuel economy requirements apply to manufacturers of new vehicles,” NHTSA added.

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