A few days ago myself and two other cyclists were the subject of a ‘coal rolling‘ attack on Old Carp Road, between Old Second Line Road and Huntmar Drive.
A coal rolling attack involves the use of a specially modified vehicle (almost always a pickup truck) to suddenly spew out an extremely thick black cloud of diesel exhaust on cyclists, pedestrians, and even other motorists. It has been a growing phenomenon in the US for a number of years, and it now appears to be moving into the Ottawa area.
I first heard about coal rolling when CBC reporter Steve Fischer wrote an article about it after he and a group of cyclists were attacked while riding through Vermont on a bicycle tour. In that incident the pickup truck made two separate passes to attack them.
Apparently, the people behind these attacks can spend as much as $5000 to modified their trucks, which includes the installation of a special switch that is used to trigger the sudden release of a cloud of dark smoke. In addition to cyclists and pedestrians, they also like to target environmentally friendly cars such as the Toyota Prius. They sometimes go after foreign sports cars and motorcycles. They love to post the results of their attacks on YouTube. Here are a few examples: video1, video2, video3.
One of the problems with coal rolling is that police and authorities are often completely unaware that such attacks are going on. As Steve Fischer discovered in Vermont, police can be very skeptical when a person does make a complaint about coal rolling. So far, my messages about what happened to our group to the Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation have gone unanswered and do not seem to be generating any interest (expect for a simple computer acknowledgment by MOT).
I’m sure there are plenty of laws on the books, including illegally tampering with a vehicle’s anti-pollution devices, to deal with coal rollers. However, the problems has become so acute in some areas of the US in recent years that a few American states have adopted, or are in the process of passing legislation aimed specifically at coal rollers.
In our case, the attack took place on Old Carp Road, a nice quiet country road that’s very popular with cyclists heading out to Carp and other areas west of Ottawa. It was carried out by someone driving a 4×4 light gray pickup truck with vertical exhaust stacks behind the cab. The pickup slowed down and followed us for a few seconds, and then the driver hit the gas and zoomed past us while releasing the thick cloud of diesel exhaust. Unfortunately, none of us were able to identify the driver nor did we get a licence plate number (which is difficult to do through all the black smoke).
Needless to say, local authorities should crack down on coal rolling before it becomes a wide spread well entrenched problem.
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