California Adopts World's First Fuel-Efficient Tires Law

New Measures Will Reduce Petroleum Dependency, Save Money

SACRAMENTO, CA (October 2, 2003) -- California today accelerated its efforts to put a new generation of cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars on the road. A pair of bills signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis would promote energy efficient tires and require state agencies to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. The Davis administration also announced that it is seeking approval for hybrid vehicles to use the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on freeways. California's actions will help clean the air and reduce the state's dependence on petroleum, according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), a conservation group, which sponsored both laws.

"California is pushing the pedal to the metal," said Roland Hwang, a senior policy analyst and vehicle technology specialist with NRDC. "We're winning the race to put advanced vehicle technologies on the road."

AB 844 by Assemblymember Joe Nation (D-San Rafael) is a first-of-its-kind law requiring energy efficient tires. It mandates labeling and fuel efficiency standards for all replacement tires sold in California. As Californians struggle with the highest, most volatile gasoline prices in the nation, the law will help cars run further on less fuel, saving consumers money at the gas pump, according to NRDC.

SB 552 by Senate President pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Treasurer Phil Angelides would improve the fuel efficiency of the state's vehicle fleet by restricting the purchase or lease of SUVs by state agencies. Vehicles needed for law enforcement, emergency services or homeland security would be exempted.

"California's actions are particularly important because the White House, Congress and Detroit have stalled efforts at the national level to build better cars," said Hwang. He noted that the Bush administration and Congress refuse to support higher fuel economy (CAFE) standards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denies that it has authority under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide, the main pollutant blamed by scientists for causing global warming.

If done properly, the HOV lane proposal could provide a powerful incentive for consumers to buy gasoline-electric hybrids, according to NRDC. Hybrids get better gas mileage and pollute less than conventional vehicles.

NRDC underscored that efficient tires are an essential way to help California reduce petroleum demand, relieve pressure on its overburdened refineries and lessen the state's dependence on gasoline imports. In July the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board jointly recommended a 15 percent reduction in petroleum demand from today's levels by 2020.

The Problem: Replacement Tires Are Less Efficient Than Original Equipment Tires

Most consumers unknowingly purchase less efficient tires when replacing their vehicles' original equipment tires. Carmakers install low rolling resistance tires on new vehicles because they have to meet federal automobile fuel economy (CAFE) standards. But tire manufacturers aren't required to offer efficient tires on the secondary market. A limited number of replacement tires appear to be as efficient as the tires that come on new vehicles, but they are not labeled or marketed as such, making them nearly impossible for consumers to find. Consequently, most people have little choice but to buy replacement tires that will cause their cars to burn more fuel and emit more pollution.

The Solution: Efficiency Labeling and Standards for Replacement Tires

AB 844 requires manufacturers to label the efficiency of tires sold in California. It also requires the California Energy Commission (CEC) to develop efficiency standards (measured by rolling resistance). The deadline for the CEC to adopt labeling and standards requirements is July 1, 2007. They would take effect one year later. The bill does not require labeling of individual tires, but rather retail stores will have to display conspicuous placards with the tire efficiency label.

The Benefits: Lower Gasoline Consumption, Saved Money, Less Pollution

According to a study commissioned by the Energy Commission, efficient tires could save Californians about 300 million gallons of gasoline per year, and the average driver would recoup the additional expense of tires in fuel savings over the course of one year. The study also found:

  • A set of four low rolling resistance tires would cost consumers an estimated $5 to $12 more than conventional replacement tires. The efficient tires would reduce gasoline consumption by 1.5 to 4.5 percent, saving the typical driver $50 to $150 over the 50,000-mile life of the tires.

  • Consumers would save more than $470 million annually at current retail prices or approximately $1.4 billion over the three-year lifetime of a typical set of replacement tires.

Efficiency, Not Drilling

Reducing gasoline consumption means less pollution and less pressure to drill for oil in precious wilderness areas. The Bush administration and Congress should support energy efficiency instead of unnecessary drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Los Padres National Forest in California, according to NRDC.

NRDC estimates that making all replacement tires in the U.S. as energy efficient as original equipment tires could reduce gasoline consumption from passenger vehicles by about 3 percent and save more than 5 billion barrels of oil over the next 50 years. That's 50 percent more than the total amount of oil that is likely to be available from the Arctic Refuge over the same time period.

Similarly, making all California replacement tires energy efficient could save in less than seven years the amount of oil likely available from the Los Padres National Forest.

No Trade-offs: Low Rolling Resistance Tires Can be Safe and Long Lasting

Low rolling resistance tires can meet high standards for traction and tread-life. Technology is available to achieve all objectives at low additional cost. According to a report by Green Seal, many tires available today from a variety of manufacturers show high marks in terms of traction, tread wear and rolling resistance.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
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