“Tire emissions” will be the new excuse to attack enthusiasts

I’ll say this about the British: they have an intimate knowledge of tyranny and the process by which it comes to power. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, whose 1984 and Brave New World neatly combine to encompass the parameters of the modern social democracy, were both Englishmen. As was Churchill, who wrote, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Perhaps you’ve been tempted to appease the power-hungry people out there, the ones in academic and government circles who have asked you to feed their crocodiles in dribs and drabs of restriction. Each of these completely sensible new laws and regulations came with a perfectly reasonable-sounding justification, many of which were even true: Leaded gasoline really does harm children. Unregulated NOx really causes California smog. Diesel particulates are, in fact, a serious threat to the respiratory health of the elderly. 

Just when we thought we’d mostly handled the environment impact of the car, with tailpipe emissions that were often cleaner than the air entering the vehicle and a whole raft of “clean” industrial processes like water-based paint and recyclable bumpers, the anti-car crowd decided that carbon dioxide was, in fact, the most important pollutant. You’ll search in vain for effective estimates of what private automobiles contribute to CO2, by the way—it’s always wrapped up in “transport,” allowing for a bigger and more frightening percentage. 

Having acquired 40 years’ worth of experience in meekly kneeling and exposing their necks to the EPA and CARB, the automakers have, of course, wasted no time in bowing before the new CO2 directives. Rather than make their case to the American people, or even hiring some of those brilliant lobbyists who make sure it’s legal for Amazon to own your medical data, the car companies have promptly set to eviscerating their new-vehicle R&D budgets so they can create electric cars for which the Venn overlap of “willing buyers” and “creditworthy customers” is the size of a postage stamp. 

By giving in to every demand of the environmental socialists, no matter how inane, the automakers no doubt hope they will be eaten last, or at least permitted to operate long enough for their current crop of executives to get their golden parachutes. They also probably think that switching to all-electric lineups will allow them to escape the current status as bugs beneath a sun-drenched magnifying glass. 

Guess what? They’re wrong. There’s a new emissions standard on the horizon—one that no private vehicle will ever have a prayer in hell of meeting. The UK government has decided that “non-exhaust emissions” (NEEs) are the new frontier, and a laboratory has promptly produced some scary numbers:

Richard Lofthouse, senior researcher at Emissions Analytics, says, “It’s time to consider not just what comes out of a car’s exhaust pipe but also particle pollution from tire and brake wear. Our initial tests reveal that there can be a shocking amount of particle pollution from NEEs—1000 times worse than emissions from a car’s exhaust.

“What is even more frightening is that while exhaust emissions have been tightly regulated for many years, tire wear is totally unregulated—and with the increasing growth in sales of heavier SUVs and battery-powered electric cars, non-exhaust emissions are a very serious problem.”

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the irony here. The SUV phenomenon is almost entirely due to CAFE, the fuel-economy regulations which made it logical for the automakers to produce trucks instead of cars. The notoriously piggish electric cars are virtually all “compliance vehicles,” created by regulatory demand or play toys for the virtue-signaling rich. 

Having created the conditions by which cars became heavier, the governments would now like to beat us over the head with the tire particulate levels which result from that increased weight. 

“Ultimately, though, the car industry may have to find ways to reduce vehicle weights, too,” Lofthouse says. “What is without doubt on the horizon is much-needed regulation to combat this problem. Whether that leads to specific types of low-emission, harder-wearing tires is not for us to say—but change has to come.”

That’s right, croc-feeders, all your hopeful tripe about how THE PERFORMANCE CAR OF THE FUTURE WILL BE ELECTRIC AND IT’S GREAT OMG will be, ahem, slightly ruined by the fact that said performance car of the future won’t be able to accelerate, turn, or stop any better than a RAM 2500 Power Wagon on 60-psi load-rated tires. If you’ve been sticking your head in the sand by watching Teslas beat Hellcats on dragstrips, you should be aware that not even a P100 Dual Motor can run a 10-second quarter on 195-width low-rolling-resistance tires. 

The notion that there won’t be any regulation as a result of this newly-discovered pollution is so naive as to be dangerous. The mandarins of the UK and EU are absolutely addicted to creating new laws at a blizzard pace; it’s how they maintain power. The United States will follow at a distance just respectful enough to avoid the most blatant appearance of submission. 

In the short term, the crocodiles will be easily satisfied with the complete erasure of high-performance tires from the OEM market. Just bring everything down to the approximate standard of today’s Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) rubber—and mandate maximum widths so the automakers don’t cheat by fitting 405-width EcoContacts. The appeasers in the media and the automotive press will trip all over themselves telling us that this is no big deal and that you can still buy Hoosier R7s from TireRack. Five years later, when that becomes illegal, it won’t be a big deal because very few people actually buy those tires, right? You couldn’t fill Madison Square Garden with everyone who’s run an actual sanctioned motorsports event in this country over the past decade. We are not what you’d call a terrifying block of voters.

No doubt some people will be killed when their LRR tires fail to get them out of a bad situation on the freeway, or when the stability-control system on their high-performance SUV finds itself thoroughly confused by banana-peel levels of transient grip, but the UK government wasn’t all that fazed by the additional deaths caused by mandating diesels over petrol in company-issued cars, so it seems reasonable to think the Brits won’t worry about a few dead Cayenne drivers every time it rains. Privately, they will note that the situation will resolve itself as soon as private-vehicle use is banned.

Which it likely will be. There’s no such thing as a tire which doesn’t produce particulates, and there never will be. The creation of particulates is a direct result of creating traction. Something’s gotta give. You could make all the tires out of steel, but then you’d be creating concrete particulates as you skidded merrily across all 10 lanes of the 405. Returning to a 55-mph speed limit, and vigorously enforcing said limit, would make a big dent—but in the long run, the only way to cut NEEs drastically would be to get people out of their cars and into mass transit. A low-speed street-level commuter train, like the ones you already see in European cities, offers the best solution to this newly-identified problem.

This state of affairs is not inevitable. The British have produced as many brilliant engineers and scientists as they have produced perceptive political thinkers. Perhaps one of them will come up with a way to address the NEE issue, at least partially. I’m thinking something like a heavily-charged metal plate behind each tire to attract the floating particulate matter. Every 10,000 miles, you scrape an inch or so of compressed rubber into a recycling bin. 

This British-style solution would no doubt buy us a few more years before the crocodiles decide that private vehicle ownership is the cause of yet another environmental catastrophe. But there’s an American-style solution to this as well, one which doesn’t require yet another layer of vehicular and regulatory complexity: We could simply declare that the private vehicle is a basic right and therefore no longer subject to the creeping encroachments of would-be regulators. This far, and no further. There is some precedent here. When King George put the entirely reasonable Stamp Act, and its successors, on the backs of American colonists, the vast majority of our forebears decided that appeasement was the best course of action. A relatively small number of fellows decided, instead, that the best answer was to go crocodile hunting. What if we were inspired by them? What if we took the right to drive as seriously as, say, we take the right to watch prurient content on the Internet? Wouldn’t that, in a very real way, wind up being… revolutionary?

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