Better Brakes Law
In 2010 Washington passed a law reducing the use of toxic material in automotive brake pads and shoes. This law restricts the use of several heavy metals and asbestos, beginning in 2015, and provides a phase out of copper. Vehicle brake pads manufactured after 2021 must contain less than five percent copper. By 2025, brake pads must contain less than 0.5 percent copper.
Although the Better Brakes Law requires manufacturers to reduce or eliminate several toxic chemicals, the major focus is on copper. As brake pads wear down, copper and other metals are deposited on roadways, where they are washed into our streams and rivers.
Copper is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. It interferes with their sense of smell, making them more vulnerable to predators or unable to return to their spawning streams. Young salmon are especially susceptible to the effects of copper.
Major sources of copper in the environment are household pesticides, water pipes, and vehicle brake pads. In urban areas, brake pads account for up to half of the copper entering our waterways - an estimated 60,000 kilograms of copper a year enters Puget Sound from vehicle brake pads. When Washington's Better Brakes Law is fully implemented in 2025, this source of copper will be virtually eliminated.
A Cooperative Effort, A National Model
In implementing the Better Brakes Law, the Department of Ecology worked closely with brake manufacturers, retailers and distributors, environmental groups, and the State of California, which has a similar law.
In January 2015, the manufacturers signed a memorandum of agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Council of the States to adopt standards based on Washington and California’s brake laws. This means that every new brake pad sold in the United States will meet Washington’s standards for copper and other toxic chemicals.
Vehicle brakes are, of course, essential to the safety of every driver and passenger on the road. Also, brake manufacturers sell their products globally and have relatively long product design cycles. In implementing the Better Brakes program, Ecology and the brake manufacturers agreed on an approach that protects the public and the environment.
Brake manufacturers report that they are on track to beat the target dates for implementing the Better Brakes Law.
Look for the Leaf
The Brake Manufacturers Council adopted the LeafMark to inform customers whether a brake pad meets the Better Brake standards. The darker the leaf, the more levels of compliance the pad meets:
Brake pads meeting the Level N 0.5 percent copper standard are already available for many vehicles. When you are replacing the brake pads on your car or truck, Ecology encourages you to ask about these low-copper products.
Major provisions of the Better Brakes Law
Better Brakes Rule
The Better Brakes Law directs Ecology to develop rules to implement the law. On October 19, 2012, Ecology adopted the Better Brake Rule, Chapter 173-901 WAC.
For more information
ContactIan Wesley, Better Brakes Rule coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-407-6747.
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