As of now, if you have a car that produces a trail of black fumes -- which is illegal -- chances are you won't face legal consequences.
To change that so that everyone can breathe easier, the Utah County Health Department is asking cities to more aggressively go after drivers with visibly polluting cars.
County officials have prepared letters to local mayors and police "to request they enforce the law already in place for vehicles that are visibly smoking gas as they drive down the street," health department executive director Dr. Joseph Miner said. Cache County "has gotten very good at this" as part of an effort to reduce air pollution, and the Utah County Health Department would like to follow their example.
In a conversation with the Daily Herald on Wednesday, health department spokesman Lance Madigan said that the county has not sent out the letters. Instead, officials are forming a "new battle plan" about how existing laws can be enforced.
Lindon Mayor Jim Dain, who is on the county health department board, told health officials in a recent meeting that according to Lindon police, "we don't have the ability to determine if they are really citable or not. It is going to cost the city money to even get this thing to first base. It is a hard thing to regulate, our police chief said."
Miner suggested that police issue fix-it tickets to violators, requiring them to come to a county facility for a diagnostic test to prove the polluting car has been repaired.
"That would be better than going to court," Dain said.
But officials said it was not clear whether the county has the expensive equipment necessary to do the testing, and if not, how the county would pay for it.
"I've been behind the cars pouring out black smoke," said former Springville city councilwoman Dianne Carr, who is now on the health department board. "If you send a letter, they know they don't have to do anything. Beyond that, we are going to have to have something more stringent."
To make the matter more difficult, health officials have gotten reports that diesel trucks are having their onboard computer chips, which manage how much air pollution is produced, swapped out so the trucks appear to comply. But after testing, the chips are switched again because running on the mode that creates less air pollution also means a less powerful truck.
The problem of illegally polluting vehicles is so widespread that if police were really going to go after violators aggressively, as the health department is hoping, "you would probably need extra officers. There are a lot of violators out there," Carr said.
Another pollution problem: drive-up restaurants, banks and pharmacies.
"Idling at a hamburger stand or idling for 10 minutes while you wait to pick up the kids, that is something we would like to do away with," Miner said, noting that every idling vehicle in the county is causing air pollution.
Despite all the hurdles, tighter air pollution controls are coming.
"We know what we are up against with this thing if we don't get our air quality cleaned up this," Dain said. "It is necessary to meet the federal air quality standards coming our way."
Miner agreed, saying "This is one of the many strategies in our communities necessary for meeting federal air quality standards."