Not-So-Cool-Cars: Calif. Board Drops Efficiency Requirement from AB32

After getting heat from police, public safety groups and transportation agencies, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) decided to drop an impending requirement for automakers to incorporate heat-blocking coatings on windows, which decreases the need for air conditioning and makes cars more fuel efficient.  This so-called Cool Cars initiative was to be implemented as part of California’s AB32 Global Warming Solutions Act, which is already under heat on multiple fronts.

The problem with the requirement to add reflective metallic glazing on car windshields (would have applied to all cars sold in California starting in 2012), according to law enforcement and transportation agencies, is that in addition to heat, the reflective coatings sometimes also block wireless transmissions. This, they said, could mean that criminals who are issued GPS-based location tracking bracelets would be harder for police to track when traveling in cars treated with this coating. They claimed the glazing could also restrict cell phone transmissions, which would make it harder for emergency personnel to locate and rescue lost or injured drivers. Finally, toll agencies claimed that the coating would disrupt the radio frequency signals emitted from FasTrak transponders, used for electronic toll collection in the state.

But ARB conducted its own tests of the coatings and determined they did not pose problems. On February 10, the ARB website noted: “The results indicate that there are no effects from reflective glazing, and thus the Cool Cars regulation, on monitoring ankle bracelets or cell phone usage in an urban environment.  Effects on GPS navigation units were observed, but these were completely eliminated by placing the device or an external antenna within a ‘deletion window’, that is, a relatively small section of the windshield manufactured without the reflective material.”

Regardless, ARB’s announced late last week that it was ceasing its rulemaking for the Cool Cars policy, option instead to “pursue a performance-based approach as part of its vehicle climate change program to reduce CO2 from air conditioning and provide cooler car interiors for California motorists.”

Meaning? It appears that ARB will continue to pursue the end result—lower emissions—but through an opt-in (and, from the sounds of the ARB announcement, a incentivized) approach with automakers.

Not surprisingly, makers of the reflective coatings aren’t thrilled with this decision. The folks at PR firm Ketchum rounded up some pro-Cool Cars support from a number of companies that produce energy-efficient glass—including Applied Materials, Southwall Technologies and Pittsburgh Glass Works. They say that the coatings have been used for many years in Europe without impacting safety.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

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