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Rollin’ Coal

If you are old enough to remember the glory days of trucking from the 1950s until deregulation in the early 1980s, many images come to mind. Cabover tractors, CB radios, multiple log books, a general lack of law enforcement and billowing black smoke churning from barebone diesel engines. They smelled, polluted the atmosphere and were glorious all at the same time. Forty years later, the environmental war on trucks continues with a new term: coal rolling.

Regardless where one sits on the political fence of the environment, no one can argue that trucks today are not more efficient and cleaner. Costly? Yes. Healthier? Yes. Totally, 100% necessary? Open for debate, but stewarding the environment should be a concern for all.

What is coal rolling? Coal rollers are typically larger diesel pickup trucks, not the big rigs of the commercial world. The owners add aftermarket equipment and/or disconnect standard emissions equipment so that the engine will produce black-as-night exhaust when the throttle is engaged.

Some roll coal because it looks cool and nostalgic. Others roll coal just to irritate people. Some roll coal as close as possible to hybrid and electric cars just to prove a point. Run a search through YouTube and watch the volumes of videos of vehicles rolling coal.

No matter what your stance is on coal rolling, it has attracted the attention of lawmakers. In February 2015, House Bill 3553 was introduced to outlaw the practice of coal rolling. Within a month, it was sent to committee to die. To think this is a dead legislative issue is foolishness. Other states are moving to prohibit coal rolling as well. As in all things, it’s just a matter of time.

The question which continually rears its ugly head is, “what authority do Illinois police officers have to enforce not only coal rolling vehicles, but any truck which is blowing black smoke?” Here’s the answer: nothing.

Many people hate trucks, and the sight of black smoke coming from the stacks adds insult to injury. They want justice! The police however, are not the authority who will administer it.

Whoa whoa whoa…what about the emissions laws in Chapter 13 of the Illinois Vehicle Code? Well, that again is the authority of the Illinois EPA. Not the police. Emissions testing is solely their responsibility with punishment being levied through the Secretary of State on vehicle registration. Only then may the police become involved, but it is indirectly through the enforcement of registration violations, not the emissions laws directly.

Whoa whoa whoa…what about the statute in Chapter 12 of the Illinois Vehicle Code regarding modified exhaust systems? Creative reading of the title of 625 ILCS 5/12-602 may lead one to believe it is illegal to tamper with the exhaust system to roll coal. Then again, if the same person actually reads the text, he will quickly see it has only to do with noise. Not black smoke. Ever.

Like many other issues discussed on this blog, many are not laws at all. They are rumors of laws. They are bills which have not become laws. They are topics which maybe should be laws. But at the end of the day, there is nothing the police can do because they are not laws.

Trailerless hitches. Barefoot driving. Now, rolling coal.

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