Imagine you’re sitting down one evening to dinner on the patio of a restaurant. Just as you’re about to take your first bite, a driver with a specially adapted vehicle barrels past and gives a few extra pumps on the gas to intentionally blast out black smoke.
You know, just for laughs.
Given that being targeted with noxious fumes isn’t all Coloradans’ idea of fun, state lawmakers are taking a second shot at passing a bill that would make “coal rolling” – the act of using vehicle exhaust as a form of harassment – a traffic infraction with a $100 fine.
This is about public safety and public health, said Rep. Joann Ginal, a Fort Collins Democrat who showed three videos of people intentionally “rolling coal” at others during a hearing in the House Transportation and Energy Committee earlier this month.
The proposal isn’t about going after diesel trucks, Ginal told the committee. It’s more about those who modify their vehicles, usually either with a tailpipe or smokestack, in order to blast smoke at another driver, bicyclist, motorcyclist, pedestrian or other human target.
Ginal said the request for the bill came from her local police department, and would give law enforcers a tool they can use when they see “coal rolling.”
According to a research paper prepared by legislative staff, the practice involves “intentionally disabling certain programming aspects of a computer controlled diesel engine, or modifying parts of an older diesel engine… These modifications allow the driver to alternate between the vehicle operating as normal, or as a coal roller, by flipping a switch in the cab of the vehicle.”
The study points out that these excessive exhaust emissions already are a violation of Colorado’s air quality regulations, and that there have been a half-dozen cases in which people have been ticketed for tampering with the emission systems of their vehicles.
Ginal’s bill drew strong support from the city of Fort Collins, the state’s associations of police chiefs and county sheriffs, Conservation Colorado, Bicycle Colorado, and the Colorado Municipal League, which represents more than 200 cities and towns across the state. The Municipal League’s Morgan Cullen witnessed two trucks blowing smoke at each other on I-25 last year, and said there have been 212 reported incidents in the past year alone. “It made me fear for my safety,” she said.
The proposal passed on a party-line, 37 Democrat to 27 Republican vote in the House on Wednesday. It now heads to the Senate, where newly-minted Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, is its sponsor.
It also may pick up a second Republican vote in the Senate from Kevin Priola of Henderson, the only House Republican to vote in favor of a similar bill last year. Priola says he’d vote for the 2017 version, given the chance.
Coram’s sponsorship of the bill is a change of heart from how he viewed it a year ago, when he served in the House. He voted against a similar bill when it was before that chamber’s transportation committee. The 2016 version passed the House on a 35 Democrats to 29 Republican vote but died in the Senate.
Coram’s change of heart comes from a change of district. In January, he was appointed to the senate district that covers much of southwestern Colorado.
As a result, Coram now has a much larger constituency than in his previous House district and one that includes the city of Durango, an environmental-leaning community where many constituents favor the bill.
This morning, Senate Republican leadership sent the bill to the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, known as a “kill” committee for bills that don’t win favor with leadership, which means the bill may never get to the Senate floor.
Photo and video courtesy of Diesel Truck Authority.