In a recent Twitter thread, former Libertarian Party VP candidate Spike Cohen made the case for the RPM Act, a law that would allow companies to keep selling vehicle modification parts “for off-road use only”. In theory, people would only use such parts for their track and off-highway vehicles, but in practice, many people would continue buying the non-street-legal parts for their street vehicles that are used for racing part-time. On the surface, this sounds like a bad environmental policy, to allow parts that make emissions of gas vehicles worse. Below the surface, though, there are good reasons for environmentalists to support this policy.
Modifying and racing cars is a proud American tradition. And the EPA is looking to end it.
A few years ago the EPA ruled that even vehicles that are exclusively driven on the track must comply with emissions standards. This is impossible for the vast majority of modded cars. pic.twitter.com/Btn5G0hsRG
— Spike Cohen (@RealSpikeCohen) March 19, 2021
Reason #1: Modified Cars Aren’t Very Common Compared To Stock Vehicles
If everyone modified their vehicles and got somewhat worse emissions, it would be a big problem. Emissions reduction technology and engines tuned for lower emissions have improved air quality and other environmental issues a lot over the decades. If everyone got worse emissions, we’d go back to the ’60s, but with more cars belching out pollutants.
But, keep in mind that only a very small portion of the motoring public has been modifying their vehicles and removing emissions equipment for performance that whole time. It was only very recently that the EPA tried to close the “off road use only” loophole that allowed the parts to be sold. Despite decades of performance enthusiasts doing this, we still had massive environmental gains.
In other words, the fact that people were doing these vehicle mods over decades is proof that the few who do it don’t matter enough to worry about. Leaving laws requiring new cars to meet emissions standards in place, while allowing enthusiasts to modify their cars wouldn’t make a measurable difference.
Reason #2: Racing Has Led To Big Improvements in Vehicle Safety
While racing culture did lead to some immeasurably small environmental impacts, it did make for some real improvements in automobile safety that we all benefited from.
Racing enthusiasts, especially professional teams building whole custom “tube frame” vehicles for the track, know that they’re going to eventually wreck. Even if they don’t think it will likely happen to them, they know that their chances of a big accident are a lot higher than the average vehicle. Everyone wants to go home at the end of the day, so they started finding ways to make their vehicles more safe.
Rear view mirrors, seat belts, disc brakes, roll cages, grippy tires, all-wheel drive, traction control, antilock brakes, headrests, better suspension systems, and crumple zones — all of these life-saving technologies were invented for the race track and later put in our street vehicles.
Many automotive manufacturers run professional racing teams, and things invented for the track continue to trickle into the consumer automotive industry from these teams. If we put the kibosh on racing innovation by applying environmental laws to it, we’d get an immeasurably small environmental improvement while losing out on future advancements.
That’s not a very good trade off. At all.
Reason #3: Avoiding Political Backlash
When we go too far with environmental policies, we make a lot of people angry. In cases where it’s worth it because there are real life-saving improvements to be made, people are going to need to just get over it or adapt what they’re doing. But, in cases where there’s not much to gain, it’s not worth alienating part of the population over.
When we push for laws that oppress hobbyists and enthusiasts, we mobilize a big lobby against us for the next time we need to do something important.
Want to win a close election? It’s not going to be good when the local racing club is out going door to door for the other guy who promised to repeal a law that hurts their hobby. Even at the national level, there are large racing organizations that would make awful political opponents.
Even if the big organizations don’t get involved, do you think the individual hobbyist is going to vote for the guy who promises to give them their hobby back, or the people who promise to make things even more strict? The answer is likely a no-brainer. Messing with millions of people in a country means giving your opponents free votes against you.
Over-regulating things until a growing portion of the population feels alienated is exactly how we got Donald Trump in office. Do things like this enough times to a small part of the population, and those people start adding up.
Getting a few immeasurable gains from messing with the car enthusiast community might seem like it’s worth it to some readers, but not at the cost of risking getting people in office who would set environmental issues back by decades.
Reason #4: EV Racing is Growing Without Mandates
There will always be a few people who want to race older vehicles with terrible emissions (we still race horses after they fell out of widespread transportation use a century ago), but many racing enthusiasts use newer vehicles that are cleaner than the old ones even without the emissions controls enabled. Increased efficiency is often increased performance, after all.
There are already a number of EV-only racing events, and in some events that welcome both types of vehicles, people are showing up with electric vehicles because they’re fast and a lot of fun to drive.
Even with no emissions regulation in racing, expect the emissions from racing to continue to drop as a significant portion of enthusiasts move to racing with electric vehicles without being forced to.
Reason #5: Racing is Fun!
Caring for the environment doesn’t mean we have to be wet blankets. Automotive racing is fun to watch and fun to participate in.
It gives adults and youth alike a fun hobby to participate in that doesn’t involve getting teenage girls pregnant or anyone dying from drug overdoses. In small towns and cities alike, where we struggle to give youth something to do that doesn’t get them into trouble, the automotive hobby has been serving us for decades. It brings together people from all income levels, cultural backgrounds, and races.
Social advantages of a safe and clean hobby aside, there’s a broad variety of fun racing events for people to participate in, including people who only like EVs.
For all of these reasons, environmentalists should support the RPM act.