Cracking down on dirty trucks

August 04, 1993

Since the state of Maryland began its voluntary emissions-testing program for heavy diesel trucks two months ago, 40 percent of the vehicles have flunked the test. This clearly indicates there is a need for some sort of permanent testing of these large trucks.

While the black, smoky fume exhausts from these trucks aren't major smog-producers, the emissions have links to lung and heart respiratory problems.

Only a few states now mandate emissions inspections for heavy diesel trucks. In Maryland, passenger cars are tested but not trucks. That's because cars cause most of the state's air pollution. In fact, of the 113 million miles driven in Maryland daily, big diesel trucks account for just 4.4 million. Diesel trucks also emit few of the smog-causing chemicals.

Still, those black, belching plumes of diesel smoke are worrisome. Recent studies seem to suggest that airborne soot particles from diesel smoke may play a role in respiratory illnesses. Diesel smoke is also a recognized carcinogen. If so many of the trucks undergoing voluntary testing by state officials are flunking, that is cause for concern.

The question is how best to address this problem. The trucking industry favors a voluntary, educational approach. They rightly point out that most truckers want to keep smoky emissions to a minimum because that indicates their engines are well-tuned and performing near top efficiency -- which translates into better gas mileage, better wear-and-tear on the engine and big cost savings.

Industry leaders also point out that tougher federal pollution standards for new diesel engines take effect this fall. That should lead to a lessening of the truck-belching problem as older trucks are replaced.

Still, it makes sense for the state to consider enlarging its current experiment with testing trucks for emissions excesses. A system of random emissions-inspections for trucks along frequently traveled routes might be considered by state officials. An education program at truck-weight stations might be undertaken, too. One way or another, diesel truckers have to help curb the dirty smoke exhausts on the highways. A 40-percent failing rate just isn't good enough.

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