We’ve all seen the videos of the asshats who stomp on the throttle and that causes a huge cloud of choking and toxic smoke. They think they’re so funny. But what is one to do (in California) if someone does this to you, and you catch it on your handy dash camera? I’ve just been on a quest to find out.

Long story short, a fellow Opponaut had someone roll coal this morning and it got me thinking of what I could do, or what CHP could do if someone did it to me.

We all know (or should know) that any modification of an emission related component is a violation of the Clean Air Act, a federal statute, but, as far as I know, state law enforcement needs a state statute in which to cite the offender, so I went searching.

I went looking through Divison 12 of the Californa Vehicle Code to find any and all relevant sections that might pertain to someone illegally modifying their car, whether their intent was to “roll coal” or not. I was looking for a section that just talked about modifications, and I found it in Chapter 5, Article 2: Exhaust systems. There are several codes that regulate emission control devices on vehicles, and also two that would apply to the specific act of “rolling coal.”

But let’s start with the broad one that would apply to any modification what would reduce (or eliminate) the effectiveness of an emission control device:

Section 27156 of the CA VC states as follows:

27156. (a) No person shall operate or leave standing upon a highway a motor vehicle that is a gross polluter, as defined in Section 39032.5 of the Health and Safety Code.

(b) No person shall operate or leave standing upon a highway a motor vehicle that is required to be equipped with a motor vehicle pollution control device under Part 5 (commencing with Section 43000) of Division 26 of the Health and Safety Code or any other certified motor vehicle pollution control device required by any other state law or any rule or regulation adopted pursuant to that law, or required to be equipped with a motor vehicle pollution control device pursuant to the National Emission Standards Act (42 U.S.C. Secs. 7521 to 7550, inclusive) and the standards and regulations adopted pursuant to that federal act, unless the motor vehicle is equipped with the required motor vehicle pollution control device that is correctly installed and in operating condition. No person shall disconnect, modify, or alter any such required device.

(c) No person shall install, sell, offer for sale, or advertise any device, apparatus, or mechanism intended for use with, or as a part of, a required motor vehicle pollution control device or system that alters or modifies the original design or performance of the motor vehicle pollution control device or system.

(d) If the court finds that a person has willfully violated this section, the court shall impose the maximum fine that may be imposed in the case, and no part of the fine may be suspended.

(e) “Willfully,” as used in this section, has the same meaning as the meaning of that word prescribed in Section 7 of the Penal Code.

(f) No person shall operate a vehicle after notice by a traffic officer that the vehicle is not equipped with the required certified motor vehicle pollution control device correctly installed in operating condition, except as may be necessary to return the vehicle to the residence or place of business of the owner or driver or to a garage, until the vehicle has been properly equipped with such a device.

(g) The notice to appear issued or complaint filed for a violation of this section shall require that the person to whom the notice to appear is issued, or against whom the complaint is filed, produce proof of correction pursuant to Section 40150 or proof of exemption pursuant to Section 4000.1 or 4000.2.

(h) This section shall not apply to an alteration, modification, or modifying device, apparatus, or mechanism found by resolution of the State Air Resources Board to do either of the following:

(1) Not to reduce the effectiveness of a required motor vehicle pollution control device.

(2) To result in emissions from the modified or altered vehicle that are at levels that comply with existing state or federal standards for that model-year of the vehicle being modified or converted.

(i) Aftermarket and performance parts with valid State Air Resources Board Executive Orders may be sold and installed concurrent with a motorcycle’s transfer to an ultimate purchaser.

(j) This section applies to motor vehicles of the United States or its agencies, to the extent authorized by federal law.

(Amended by Stats. 2007, Ch. 325, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 2008.)

But there are two more sections which I would argue would apply to someone “rolling coal.”

27153. No motor vehicle shall be operated in a manner resulting in the escape of excessive smoke, flame, gas, oil, or fuel residue.

The provisions of this section apply to motor vehicles of the United States or its agencies, to the extent authorized by federal law.

(Amended by Stats. 1971, Ch. 739.)

And I would also argue this would apply to diesels, seeing as how “rolling coal” produces a very thick, lingering cloud of black smoke:

27153.5. (a) No motor vehicle first sold or registered as a new motor vehicle on or after January 1, 1971, shall discharge into the atmosphere at elevation of less than 4,000 feet any air contaminant for a period of more than 10 seconds which is:

(1) As dark or darker in shade as that designated as No. 1 on the Ringelmann Chart, as published by the United States Bureau of Mines, or

(2) Of such opacity as to obscure an observer’s view to a degree equal to or greater than does smoke described in paragraph (1) of this subdivision.

(b) No motor vehicle first sold or registered prior to January 1, 1971, shall discharge into the atmosphere at elevation of less than 4,000 feet any air contaminant for a period of more than 10 seconds which is:

(1) As dark or darker in shade than that designated as No. 2 on the Ringelmann Chart, as published by the United States Bureau of Mines, or

(2) Of such opacity as to obscure an observer’s view to a degree equal to or greater than does smoke described in paragraph (1) of this subdivision.

(c) The provisions of this section apply to motor vehicles of the United States or its agencies, to the extent authorized by federal law.

(Amended by Stats. 1973, Ch. 216.)

So, now that I’ve found the relevant sections of the Vehicle Code, if someone does this to me, I would insist an officer take a report, follow up with the driver, and hopefully cite them under those sections I’ve just quoted.

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I take great offense to assholes who intentionally modify their cars to emit excessive smoke and harmful gasses, just for the purpose of being an asshole. Those type of people should have the book thrown at them and fined appropriately.

This is what a real diesel looks like, and with no smoke.