Tool Tests Virginia Cars' Emissions While in Motion

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For more than three decades, motorists in northern Virginia have been required to obtain an emissions inspection as part of the vehicle registration process.

Until now, the only inspection option was to make a trip to a traditional inspection station, which could require making appointments, juggling schedules and waiting in lines.

RAPIDPASS, the on-road emissions testing option, is now part of Air Check Virginia, the vehicle emissions program operated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Motorists now have the option of having their vehicle emissions inspected in the blink of an eye during daily driving routines in northern Virginia.

Drivers can drive down the road at normal speed, passing through emission testing zones, which are two green boxes. The cars are checked with an infrared beam, and if it passes, a letter is sent to the owner, offering the option to pay for the test online.

“This actually measures the emissions of a vehicle as it is driving down the road," said Jim Sands, president of Opus Inspection, which is running the RAPIDPASSprogram. "This equipment is extremely accurate for vehicles. You can't get any more accurate than measuring emissions on a vehicle that's in use."

No trip to the garage is necessary, and some people didn’t even know their car had been tested. Matt Howard was the first northern Virginia resident to get a letter, telling him that his car had passed.

“I got the notice in the mail, and I had never heard of RAPIDPASS, so I thought it was junk mail,” Howard said. “I did open it though, and it appeared to be legitimate. I went online and it was a piece of cake."

Sands said simple maintenance will help cars pass the test easily.

"Keeping the air pressure in your tires at regular limits, doing the oil changes," he said. "Those are good solid maintenance issues that some people just don't pay any attention to."

The program won’t be able to measure every car in northern Virginia, but it will get a lot of them. These locations will be moved all over the area.

This article originally appeared on NBC Washington.

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