The Mamas and the Papas sang about California Dreaming. Things have changed in the Golden State since the ’60s, however. Now, whenever I enter the California-plated rental car for our little trip through southern Arizona and New Mexico, I get a weird California Warning.
It’s a big, intrusive notice plastered right there on the driver’s side door that tells me that operating a motor vehicle can be hazardous to my health. You see, the State of California apparently knows — hey, that’s the word the notice uses — that engine exhaust, carbon monoxide, phthalates (how is that pronounced, anyway?), and lead cause cancer and birth defects. So what’s a driver to do? Well, the notice says you should avoid breathing exhaust fumes and idling your engine, you should service your vehicle — I think that means gas it up when the tank runs dry — in a well-ventilated area, and you should wear gloves or wash your hands frequently when servicing your vehicle.
From the look of the notice, it appears that California voters enacted one of their voter propositions — in this case, Proposition 65 — that requires the notice. In fact, Proposition 65 was passed in 1986 and, among other things, requires the State of California to assemble and publish a list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects — which now includes about 800 chemicals — and obligates businesses to notify consumers about chemicals in products. Hence, the Big Brother-type notice on our rental car.
I have to say that the notice gives me a laugh every time I get into the car. Why? Because, based on what I’ve seen of California, it’s got to be one of the most ignored — even flouted — notices in the history of governmental notices. Californians don’t exactly seem to be avoiding their cars; California traffic congestion is easily one of the worst in any state. And because of that, Californians are routinely breathing in those bad exhaust fumes as they wait in a colossal traffic jam on “the Santa Monica Freeway” or “the 405” or any of the countless other highways that are always subject to a traffic snarl at any time of the day or night. And I haven’t noticed Californians donning gloves at the filling station as they fuel their cars or rushing to wash their hands after gassing up, either. Apparently they’ve made the rational judgment that washing your hands in one of those gross, soiled sinks in a gas station bathroom is more hazardous that those phthalates.
By the way, phthalates are pronounced ftha-lates.