NHTSA Grants SRS Request: Opens Investigation into Ford OEM Valve Stems

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I5

Washington, D.C. - Less than two weeks after Safety Research & Strategies requested the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to open a defect investigation into Chinese tire valve stems used as OEM equipment in some Ford vehicles, the Office of Defects Investigation has complied.

On September 25, SRS President Sean Kane sent a letter to Daniel Smith, NHTSA's Associate Administrator for Enforcement, asking him to widen the current probe on prematurely cracking rubber snap-in valve stems manufactured by Shanghai Baolong / Topseal Automotive to include Ford vehicles which also used the Topseal stems. On October 14, ODI opened a Preliminary Evaluation (PE08-060) into more than a million Topseal stems on Ford vehicles, citing the possibility that they may crack due to poor ozone resistance, leading to tire damage and a possible loss-of-control crash.

NHTSA Publishes Final DSP Rule; SRS Vows Challenge

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I5

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Three years after proposing to close the flagrant loopholes in the Designated Seating Position rule, NHTSA has published a Final Rule that tweaks its initial proposal, but fails to address its core weakness - the lack of underlying data to support the change.

The Final Rule, published on October 8, attempts to prevent manufacturers from offering extra rear seating while skirting the requirement for a seat belt in each designated seating position. For years, manufacturers of vehicles with generous rear bench seats equipped with only two three-point belts hung their hats on four words in the current rule's definition of a designated seating position: "likely to be used." This allowed automakers to pretend that only two positions in the rear seat were likely to be used, even as consumers were clearly occupying three positions.

Complaints to NHTSA Matter

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V5, I4, July / August 2008

On August 12, 2006, Rafael B. Melo, Claudeir Jose Figueiredo and Carlos Souza were ejected from a 2000 Chevrolet Express 2500 Cargo Van, when its 2004 Compass Telluride steel belted radial tire failed, causing the van to rollover. Melo and Figueiredo died in the crash. Souza suffered a permanent brain injury. In May 2007, the families of the victims filed a civil lawsuit against the Chinese manufacturer, Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company, and the American importer, Foreign Tire Sales of Union, New Jersey. A year would elapse between the crash and a recall of the defective tires. But it only took two months from the time that FTS -- spurred by litigation -- reported the deaths to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the launch of a campaign to remove the defective tires from the road.

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Senate Holds Hearing on Roof Strength; NHTSA Grilled on Pre-emption

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The chairman of the Senate Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Automotive sub-committee has urged the Secretary of Transportation to extend the July 1 deadline for a final roof crush rule and to drop the pre-emption clause from the regulation.

After Long Delay, NHTSA Issues Advisory Addressing Tire Aging

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Eight years after the Explorer/Firestone rollovers pushed the problems of tire aging to the fore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued its first consumer advisory that addressed the dangers of aged tires.

On June 2, NHTSA released the advisory as a kick-off the summer driving season. The all-purpose warning for motorists to check their tires - including the spare - for signs of wear, under-inflation and age, was an important public acknowledgement of a safety hazard the agency has long understood. While NHTSA's Consumer Advisory did not define any tire age limit, it did refer to vehicle and tire makers age recommendations.

Fatal Rollover Prompts Probe into Chinese-Made Tire Valve Stems: Safety Groups Urge Consumers to Have Tires Checked

June 19: Dill Air Controls added a bulletin to their website with instructions for inspecting valve stems.

ORLANDO, FLA -- Safety advocates are urging motorists to inspect their valve stems for cracks and to check their tire pressure in the wake of one distributor's recall of defective valve stems made in China by Shanghai Baolong Industries Co. and a federal probe into premature cracking prompted by a fatal rollover crash.

As many as 30 million replacement rubber valves stems, imported to the U.S. from China beginning in August 2006, can crack prematurely, causing tires to lose air. Air loss at highway speeds may result in a tire failure and loss-of-control crash. (The valve stem is a rubber tube with a metal valve used to inflate the tire with air.)

NHTSA Proposes Upgrades to School Bus Regulations; Big Yellow Buses Get another Pass on Three-Point Belts

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Five years after it issued a comprehensive report on its school bus safety research, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to propose a requirement that three-point seatbelts be installed in full-size school buses - which agency research has shown to provide better occupant protection than lap belts or compartmentalization alone - because its is too expensive to implement, it said.

Instead, the agency is proposing to require shoulder/lap belts on small buses, to improve compartmentalization on large school buses and to establish lap/shoulder belt requirements for districts that wish to install them voluntarily.

U.S. Views on Auto Safety are Schizophrenic

NOTE: The following article was published in Auto Monitor, August 16-31, 2007. Auto Monitor is India's largest auto industry trade news publication

It's difficult to find an advertisement for a vehicle in the U.S. that doesn't include safety claims. Multiple airbags, Electronic Stability Control, an alphabet soup of indecipherable acronyms, along with the prerequisite government five-star ratings - all seemingly indicate we are at the pinnacle of safety in America. Despite all of this hype, U.S. views on auto safety are schizophrenic: We allow our crash safety regulations, many of which were written decades ago, to significantly lag behind state-of-the-art and meanwhile more than 42,000 deaths that occurred on America's roads last year are given scant notice.

NHTSA Document and Data Secrecy and Accessibility

Withholding critical data, the erosion of public accessibility to public information, the neglect of government documents-these have been the hallmarks of the Bush administration. Secrecy-in all of its forms-has been a prominent feature of the continuing stream of scandals out of Washington, D.C.  Most have centered on national security, but lately, administration appointees have thrown a cloak of secrecy over motor vehicle safety information. The effect will likely be felt for many years to come.

In the following three stories, which were published in SRS' The Safety Record (V2, Issue 4 March / April 2007), Safety Research & Strategies examines data secrecy, the new limits on public accessibility to important NHTSA documents, and the neglect of historical data sources.  Alone, these issues are significant. Combined, they have potentially devastating effect on the future of safety regulation and defect trend detection and remediation.

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