DETROIT -- For decades, state and federal governments have passed laws regulating vehicle safety, but come 2021 laws in Washington state and California will take effect to make brake pads safer -- not for drivers or passengers but for salmon.
Passed in 2010, similar legislation in both states will require that any brake pads sold there after 2021 contain less than 5 percent copper by weight.
Because it's not financially feasible for automakers to sell vehicles with one type of brakes in only two states, it is expected that the Washington and California laws will alter the makeup of brake pads sold in North America.
Regulators in Washington, which passed its law before California, finished the rulemaking process to establish regulations and enforcement mechanisms last month.
Automakers, brake manufacturers and retailers were heavily involved in shaping the rules and were supportive of the law.
Both laws also have provisions that ban the use of asbestos, lead, hexavalent chromium and other toxic chemicals in brake pads starting in 2014.
Copper is used in brake pads as a friction material to bring the vehicle to an efficient stop. Every time a driver steps on the brakes, a tiny bit of the copper-laden material is deposited onto the road. Ultimately, it ends up in waterways where it affects salmon and other marine wildlife.