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Jason Mendelson was driving his Toyota Prius in the right lane of Interstate 64 near Richmond, Virginia, when a white pickup truck with two protruding smokestacks cut into the lane ahead.

After a few moments, the pickup spewed a torrent of black smoke that enveloped his small car. The pickup sped away. Mendelson didn't think much of the odd interaction until a few minutes later, when the pickup returned and again left him in a cloud of smoke.

"That's when I realized, 'Okay, this was on purpose,'" he said.

Indeed, he was the victim of a practice called "coal rolling" or "rolling coal," which if you're unfamiliar, is the equivalent of farting in someone's vehicular face.

Own a diesel pickup truck, and you can spend somewhere between several hundred to several thousand dollars on modifications that make the vehicle capable of belching towers of black smoke on command, all for the apparent pleasure of leaving fellow drivers or pedestrians choking on a cloud of soot.
Young man sticks head in pickup truck smokestacks 'rolling coal'

Victims aren't usually chosen at random. Rather, coal rollers take particular delight in targeting drivers of green-friendly cars like the Toyota Prius, because rolling coal isn't always mere indiscriminate harassment, but a form of grassroots political protest against President Obama and perceived burdensome federal regulations.

Coal rollers take particular delight in targeting drivers of green-friendly cars like the Toyota Prius.

"I run into a lot of people that don't really like Obama at all," one coal-roller tells Slate, which detailed the practice at length. "If he's into the environment, if he's into this or that, we're not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck – that's my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you."

This isn't the first time that clashes between conservatives and liberals have reached the automotive world. In 2012, one-time Republican leader Newt Gingrich took a swipe at the Chevrolet Volt, declaring on the campaign stump that "you cannot put a gun rack in a Volt." But it may be the first time that politics have been a root cause of everyday harassment of drivers on American roadways.

YouTube is filled with examples of coal rollers providing footage of their brazen pranks (or brazen stupidity, depending on your perspective), many of them with hundreds of thousands of views. In one, a driver with a "Prius Repellent" sticker on his rear window, sends a billowing cloud of black smoke toward the Toyota hybrid behind him. In another, a young driver, under the headline of "This is what I think of hybrid cars," coal-rolls a Ford Fusion Hybrid that belongs to his parents. In another, between goofy giggles, a driver leaves a police cruiser in a black haze. In yet another, a driver doesn't attack a green-car driver, but a friend who happens to be sleeping in the cab of another vehicle – pranking friends and family is another running theme among coal rollers.

There are countless examples that, collectively, provide an astounding look at the coal-rolling subculture.

In recent days, the Environmental Protection Agency at the center of many coal rollers' angst has issued a statement saying that the modifications that enable rolling coal are illegal. "Tampering with vehicle pollution controls is against the law," an EPA spokesperson tells Autoblog. "Tailpipe pollution, uncontrolled by emissions reduction technology, contains high levels of soot and smog-forming chemicals, which are linked to premature death in people with heart or lung disease, aggravated asthma and other serious, negative health effects."

Out on the road, there are no specific laws that prohibit rolling coal.

The EPA says it has reached settlements with some of the largest manufacturers of defeat-device equipment, and that it aggressively enforces the relevant portions of the Clean Air Act.

Out on the road, there are no specific laws that prohibit rolling coal, but there may be indirect traffic violations that result from the practice. Laws vary on a state-by-state basis, but conceivably, cutting off another driver or intentionally impairing their vision could result in a ticket. Some could run afoul of emissions regulations. In the meantime, motorists like Mendelson are left to fend for themselves.

"It's illegal, but who is enforcing that? It would have to happen in front of a cop, so I don't think there's a whole lot that can be done," he said. "When someone pulls in front of you like that, it's a safety risk ... it's also a symptom of a greater underlying problem of intolerance combined with stupidity. It's disturbing that someone feels so threatened that they have to essentially attack someone they don't know, who can't defend themselves, who might not even have the views they think you do."

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 10 Months Ago
      In Denver I saw some guy coal blast a group of cyclists in the bike lane. Thankfully one of the cyclists was quite tall, and despite being a lifted-bro truck, was still able to come up to the driver's side window and exchange words with the driver face-to-face. Others in traffic honked at the guy and I was happy to flip him the bird... These coal-rollers are the ultimate a-holes...
        • 10 Months Ago
        I would have scratched (or dented) the crap out of his truck and got out of there.
        • 10 Months Ago
        In AZ they not only do this, they strap train horns to their trucks and blow them randomly to scare the **** out of people.
      • 10 Months Ago
      I was driving my Solstice with the top down. One of these D-bags decided to do this to me, even though he had just come up on me from another street - ie we had no previous interaction in traffic or otherwise. It wasn't a road rage thing. He just decided that being a dick was his goal in life. It's sad when people by default have ZERO respect for their fellow humans. It's a narcissistic mindset much like racism - but instead of hating members of a race, these people seem to hate all humans who aren't them. Also, I don't think this is in the least bit politically motivated. Most of these jerks don't know the first thing about politics. Most conservatives I know would be equally put off by this behavior.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Yet another way the douchiest subset of the pickup crowd has found to express themselves in ways nobody else does on the road. For all the talk of uppity Prius drivers, I can't say I've ever heard of them doing things to threaten pickup drivers on the road or take it out on trucks using their vehicles. This is aggressive and beyond stupid, and someone needs to smack these d!ckwads with some tickets. In researching this stupidity I found out that one of the other dumb trends these idiots think is just hilarious is to outfit their truck with a train horn, and then blow it at randomly, freaking other drivers and pedestrians out. This has actually happened to me while driving in my area more than once. Didn't know it was a "thing" until now.
      • 10 Months Ago
      I actually worked for a company that made diesel performance products, and it's these kind of idiots that are killing that market. They've drawn attention to themselves with these giant clouds of smoke (which is actually a sign of improper tuning–too much fuel, not enough air) and now the government has taken notice. Eventually, they'll be fined for illegal modification and this will end.
        • 10 Months Ago
        Marv, doesn't it wreak havoc with SCRs and trap oxidizers? Or are they injecting raw fuel downstream?
          • 10 Months Ago
          I'm pretty sure these dolts remove those things.
      Neutral President
      • 10 Months Ago
      This is such a mind-boggling, stupid practice. Deliberately obscuring another driver's vision could be reckless endangerment. Likewise for spewing unburnt hydrocarbons and carcinogenic diesel particulate emissions into their air space and the environment in general. The law needs to come down on these jackasses HARD.
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Neutral President
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Neutral President
        I agree, and I hope someone starts passing a law or two over this activity soon. Although, I thought it was a law in at least a few places that if it looks like someone's got some seriously dirty exhaust, that a cop could pull them over and cite them or give them a warning that the vehicle needed to be fixed and/or emission tested. Might be hard to do in the case of these ******** because it sounds like this thing they are modifying their trucks with allows them to dump exhaust on command, while running up to regulation the rest of the time. But generally speaking, if this were about idiots doing burnouts on public roads and creating plumes of tire smoke, you can bet your ass PDs across the nation would be all over them. The PDs probably should be now, especially since this is a form of random, voluntary, passive-aggressive road rage that can cause an accident. And the way they target specific kinds of cars smacks of a kind of activity we do not want infecting our daily drives.
      • 10 Months Ago
      I have been a truck owner for over 30 years. I think it's great that we all have access to aftermarket parts and accessories for our trucks and cars that improve their performance and looks. The performance parts we can buy for diesel pickup trucks these days are amazing! However, has it occurred to anyone that this kind of stupidity (aka coal rolling) plays into the hands of the people who would like to make it illegal for us to modify our vehicles? Keep this crap up and the states/feds will make modification of diesel engines illegal. Duh!!!
        • 10 Months Ago
        You hit the nail on the head. There are tons of useful and amazing performance products for diesels on the road. Want to see that market decimated, regulated, and stomped out, keep rolling coal.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Also, as some have mentioned, this does count as assault and/or battery. "Rolling coal" directly causes harm to the victim and to the community's air. Also being an illegal obstruction of the road affecting visibility counts as an offense. If I can roll coal on someone, that means I can also pepper spray or smoke grenade anybody that I don't like, at will. So yes, it's criminal and no, still nobody gives a crap about the coal roller. Throw the book at them, and everyone else moves on in life. Plenty of ways to seek attention in jail.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Not the biggest Prius fan here, but the only thing dumber than these coal rolling fools is whatever stupidity gave birth to them. Absolute waste of a human life....
      Sergey R
      • 10 Months Ago
      Retards. Evolution process definitely skipped them.
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Sergey R
        Considering their family trees don't fork, not surprising
      • 10 Months Ago
      Must be same douche bags with the blinding illegal faux HID lights from eBay.
        • 10 Months Ago
        It's even worse, when some people lift their front end up "bull-doging" and have HIDs pointing straight into the air! Those are the people that deserve a ticket...
      Darth Nader
      • 10 Months Ago
      The part that really baffles me is the "want clean air? Screw you!" part. Seriously, who doesn't want clean air to breath and clean water to drink? If not for yourself, how about for your 8 illegitimate children? I'll never understand that mentality. It's like arguing with a 4 year old. I grew up in Ohio. Not the best air. I've lived all over the eastern half of the U.S., and I didn't know what it felt like to breathe clean air until I lived in northern Maine for a few years. Suddenly my allergies and asthma virtually disappeared. It was amazing. Then I got a job in Indiana. Awful. Boston was horrible, as was Baltimore and D.C. Tennessee was by far the worst. Seriously, though, we don't want clean air because the gubb'ment told us that it's a good thing? Grow the f@$& up.
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Darth Nader
        Cool name - Darth Nader, but if you think this is significant, you are not too good in the math department.
      • 10 Months Ago
      Too many idiots in this country; makes me sad.
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