The Risk-Monger

An Exhausting Idea

Why is it that most cars have designed the exhaust pipe to emit toxic fumes right at the precise maximum exposure level for an infant in a baby carriage / stroller? It has been the standard design for almost a century, and no one has apparently considered whether those most vulnerable in our society should be forced to be the most highly exposed to the pollutants and fine particulates consequent to our obsession with such an environmentally catastrophic and highly unnecessary mobility device.

Regular readers to this blog are aware that the Risk-Monger detests the environmental hypocrisy of our love affair with the car. While I certainly feel that electric cars are worse for the environment (and this view, expressed two years before it had become a common call, has recently been eloquently reaffirmed), I have been dealing with an idea that won’t go away: If we continue to support this motorised madness, passenger vehicles should undergo some significant redesign.

If we were to seriously apply our main risk management tool to protect babies and infants (no, not that silly precautionary principle nonsense – that would result, if applied with integrity, in our immediately removing all cars from the road), ALARA, we should then be seeking to reduce infant exposure to noxious fumes to “as low as reasonably achievable”. This would entail that cars should be designed to have their exhaust pipes at the highest level of the car (much like many lorries are designed).

Designing a combustion emission outlet at the baby carriage level was not intended for aesthetics or for environmental protection (as far as I know, hot smoke rises), but rather to reduce the perception of the pollution coming from the vehicles. Visibility matters in risk perceptions.

What I would like to see is for the European Commission to show some backbone (OK, maybe not until the next Commission President) and demand that the automotive industry, within the next five years, either design vehicles with zero toxic emissions or be forced to redesign their cars to have ‘smokestack style’ exhaust pipes. The automotive industry and the German, French and Swedish government lobbyists will likely go ballistic on the Commission, but the Risk-Monger is willing to lend his support (he has had more than a decade of experience fighting irrational, emotional lobbyists).

There would be a likely positive effect from such a redesign (besides fewer infant illnesses and DALYs). People mindlessly sitting in useless stop-start traffic jams will be forced to clearly see how much pollution is being emitted from the cars in front of them. Some of these commuters may be conscientious enough to realise they are doing the same, and may consider alternatives. Every car taken off the road is an achievement for good (even if no organisation is campaigning for this).

This is, of course, a completely stupid idea, but it is one that won’t go away (and I am ready to put some energy into this). Either we commit to seriously protecting the most vulnerable in our population, or we admit that we are all hypocrites.



Author :


  1. Riskmonger (love your work), I’m afraid that LCA still has a long way to go before it can accurately say enough about mining and metals “depletion” to prove your hunch correct.
    The Norwegian study used flawed Ecoinvent data in a flawed Recipe model to reveal not much at all about the impacts of using more copper, nickel and aluminium in EVs.
    But on another note, I have often wondered if European lorries have baby-height exhaust pipes because the main pollutant of concern is particulates and they might disperse less if released at that height. Any potential to that theory?

    1. Thanks Jack – the demand for an automotive LCA is an idle taunt – it is in no one’s interest to confront the issue of sustainable transport with research or risk assessments.
      Fine and ultra-fine particulate matter from diesel exhaust fumes (those are the ones that are able to get around our body’s defence mechanisms …!) can remain suspended for longer periods of time than the previous, very visible, soot. For lorries, the Boone Pickens plan seems to make sense – if we insist on ditching rail for road freight, then switch to nat-gas. Only the Russians and Chinese seem to have picked up on that plan.

Comments are closed.