Regulating resistance

New regs require the use of low rolling resistance tires

In December 2008, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved regulations to reduce emissions from diesel trucks and buses that operate within the state. Part of the greenhouse gas legislation requires heavy-duty vehicles to use SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance (LRR) tires when operating on California highways, regardless of where they are licensed or registered. This regulation applies to tractors with a GVWR greater than 26,000 lbs. and 53-ft. trailers, including dry van and refrigerated.

All affected tractors and trailers starting with the 2011 model year were required to comply with the LRR tire requirements starting in 2010; however, the requirements for 2010 model year and older tractors and trailers are being phased in over the next few years. As of Jan. 1, 2013, all 2010 model year and older tractors must be equipped with SmartWay-verified LRR tires, while the trailer requirements do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2017.

On Oct. 2, CARB issued an advisory explaining how the LRR tire requirements will be implemented. It clarifies that 2010 model year and older tractors that are not using SmartWay-verified LRR tires manufactured or retreaded prior to Jan. 1, 2013, can continue to operate in California with those tires until the end of their tread life or Jan. 1, 2015, whichever comes first. That being said, all tires that are replaced or retreaded on an affected tractor after Jan. 1, 2013, must be SmartWay verified as low rolling resistance. CARB has not released any information regarding the trailer requirements scheduled to take effect in 2017, but one would hope that similar allowances will be made to ease the burden on carriers.

Enforcement will take place at border crossings, weigh stations, truck stops, fleet facilities, and randomly selected roadside locations. According to the CARB website, penalties will range from $300 to $1,000 per violation per day, “though mitigating circumstances may reduce the total penalties.” While vehicle owners will be allowed to continue operating a noncompliant tractor in the state of California, they will be subject to additional violations and fines.

As someone who has visited California multiple times over the past decade, I can personally attest to the poor air quality, so I can empathize with the government’s belief that it’s necessary to take aggressive steps to reduce diesel emissions. And since LRR tires are not the only mechanism used to improve air quality, it’s a little easier to see how emissions controls, aerodynamics, and low rolling resistance technology will combine to reduce air pollution.

However, I have always been a strong proponent of the “educate not legislate” approach and believe that between existing federal regulations and the economics of $4/gal. diesel, there are already enough reasons to persuade most fleets to take steps to improve fuel efficiency, which ultimately reduces emissions. It’s also important to note that LRR tires cannot overcome the effects of underinflation, so the regulations in California can still be undermined by poor maintenance.

Trucking is one of the most regulated industries in this country. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is making a positive impact on safety, and the industry embraced emissions regulations starting with the 2014 model year. Business leaders recognize the importance of environmentally friendly practices and are voluntarily taking the necessary steps to make improvements. Hopefully, the remaining 49 states will give the industry a chance to make those improvements so we don’t have 50 different sets of rules.

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