Opinion: Auto parts: Putting the brakes on a bad bill

As I write, members of the brake pad industry are waiting at the table to work out a reasonable solution to an unreasonable bill circulating in California’s legislature.


SB 346 (Kehoe) is designed to address water quality issues in San Diego and Los Angeles by reducing copper dust from brake pads that washes into the urban watersheds.


These are earnest, worthwhile environmental goals.  However, the bill also undermines the most critical job of a vehicle’s brakes – ensuring driver and passenger safety.  At the same time we are pleading with legislators to consider driver safety, they brush off our appeals and work feverishly to cram through this bill.


As it is currently written, Senate Bill 346 has immovable deadlines for making changes to eliminate the copper content in all brake pads. That means SB 346 does not give the auto industry time to research, develop and design new copper-free brake pads to fit every size and style of car and truck on our roads.


SB 346 needs to allow a process for experts, industry representatives and legislators, to evaluate the progress and likelihood of a safe copper-free friction material.  We would conduct this review at a fixed future date and in advance of compliance deadlines.  If there are unforeseen technical challenges to providing copper-free brakes in advance of the set deadlines, the legislation needs to provide the flexibility to evaluate how to safely comply.  


We feel this is a sensible and workable compromise. In fact, our industry just recently worked with Washington State to pass first-of-its-kind legislation which sets aggressive copper reduction goals for brake pads to protect the state’s water quality and salmon population.  We did this without compromising vehicle safety or the expectations of consumers.  The Washington law shows that reasonable, balanced policy is possible to achieve.


The motor vehicle parts manufacturing industry plays an important role in California’s economy, providing almost 25,000 jobs and indirectly creating more than 120,000 jobs.


Now is not the time to create unnecessary hardships for local businesses and entire industries. It is never the time to undermine the performance or safety guarantees of a vehicle’s brake system.


Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) and its affiliate association Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) believes we can achieve a legislative solution if author Senator Christine Kehoe (Dist. 39) and the bill’s supporters would earnestly consider the safety shortcomings of SB 346. 


Our objections have been snubbed time-and-time again while frenzied legislators led by Senator Kehoe rush through this bill.  It is hard to believe that a group of elected officials who are so rigorously negotiating a statewide budget would give such little concern to vehicle safety.  


SB 346 needs to be revised to afford more flexibility and ensure development of a safe copper alternative. These considerations in revising the legislation will go a long way towards achieving environmental protection without putting public safety at risk.  


However to get there, legislators need to acknowledge that the bill is flawed and show some willingness to work toward a solution.

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