a couple of years back when driving in Houston i'd noticed a billboard asking local citizens to rat out their fellow Houstonians who are driving cars more damaging to the environment than the average passenger vehicle. you know the type, the ones with black or white smoke billowing continuously from the tailpipe; this phenomenon is defined by a handy Texas government website as "a result of incomplete fuel combustion...usually caused from improper engine operation".
back then (and now) i thought it was a good idea; some yutz mucks up our air because he isn't keeping his car properly maintained? i get my oil changed regularly and go in for interval service checkups, why isn't everyone else on board with the program?
the answer of course lies somewhere within the triangular boundary of economic status, laziness, and "jerk syndrome". some can't afford it (that's why they're driving the busted-up hoopty in the first place), some can't motivate themselves to get out to the shop and fix things, some are aware that they're laying down a Spy Hunter - like smokescreen but eh, my daddy didn't hug me enough when i was a kid so forget you man you can just "BACK OFF" like my Yosemite Sam mudflaps tell you, and countless combinations of the three forces.
technically it is illegal:
"State law under Section 547.605 of the Texas Transportation Code prohibits motor vehicles with excessive visible smoke emissions from operating on Texas roadways. Law enforcement authorities statewide may issue citations, punishable by a fine of not more than $350, to the owner of "a vehicle that emits visible smoke for 10 seconds or longer"
but there aren't enough cops on the road to catch all of the polluters so the government deputized all us do-gooder citizens to help out. all of this said i never followed through with a report until earlier this week on my drive in to work when i trailed behind a smoking car for a good ways into downtown, thought to myself "time to take action, citizen" and boldly copied down the car's license plate to ensure accurate reporting! once at the work desk i made my way to the online government website for reporting smoking vehicles and passed along the information (license, date/time/location) .
so what, did i discover, was the end result of my efforts?
to quote the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's site:
"The extent of the action taken by the TCEQ regarding smoking vehicle reports is the mailing of a notification letter to the registered owners of the reported vehicles. The letter notifies them their vehicles were reported to be observed emitting excessive visible exhaust emissions. It also encourages them to make repairs, if needed.... and inform vehicle owners that they can be ticketed for operating a smoking vehicle on Texas roadways"
a notification letter and gentle encouragement to have your vehicle properly maintained: take that, you no-goodnik!
really, what should i have expected though?
"Officer Kentz, we just received another anonymously-submitted report of a car emitting excess exhaust"
"Roger that, I'm heading directly to the suspect's place of residence to commence standard stakeout procedures. Requesting backup"
unrealistic both due to manpower constraints and that, if actual enforcement was part of the program, you'd end up getting a visit from the cops about your car, whether smoking or not, courtesy of your vindictive ex.
so overall i feel like a contributor to the government program equivalent of a homeowners' association, sending passive-aggressive notices to code violators, letters that will be summarily read, disregarded, and thrown away. considering that the product of the whole process seems to be limited to some paper trash destined for a landfill, did i just end up hurting the environment through my civil vigilance? oh the irony