ABC Exposes Broken Tire Safety System

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Yesterday, ABC’s Nightline and Good Morning America took two issues that Safety Research & Strategies has been chipping away at for a decade, and gave them big play: the broken tire recall system and tire age. Producer Cindy Galli and investigative reporter Brian Ross, working with reporters at local ABC affiliates, bought recalled and very old tires, told victims’ stories and skewered the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association.

The stories raised a number of key issues:

• The tire recall system doesn’t work: Recalled tires aren’t always caught by retailers and there is no quick, easy or efficient way for any consumer or tire technician to check the recall status of a tire.
• Aged tires are sold and put into service unknowingly because the date code is buried in the Tire Identification Number, and expressed in a non-standard format. Tire age recommendations by vehicle and tire makers are not well known to service professionals or consumers.
• The tiremakers’ trade group, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) has conceded that the tire recall system does need improvement, but continues to maintain that tire age has no bearing on safety, and has fought off regulations to keep old tires off the road.

ABC highlighted the National Transportation Safety Board’s first tire safety investigation into a February crash that killed two and injured seven members of the First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, Florida, when a two-year-old left rear recalled BF Goodrich tire suffered a tread separation. The tire had been recalled in July 2012. The NTSB is also investigating a second fatal incident involving an aged tire. With its investigative powers and advisory role to other regulatory agencies on safety policy, the NTSB’s recommendations have the potential to be a game-changer. Will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listen?

NHTSA, which devised the tire recall system in the 1970s, has done nothing significant to improve it. Yes, the tire industry fought off better regulations, but NHTSA really owns this failure. In 40 years, the only amendments to the system has been changing the three-digit date of manufacture, which was wildly confusing, to a mildly confusing four-digit code; requiring the TIN to be imprinted on both sides of the tire, although the date portion of the TIN only has to be on one side; and requiring tiremakers to submit the TIN ranges of recalled tires with their defect notices. And, we are still operating on a paper-and-pencil system that hasn’t worked for years.

SRS has repeatedly argued for a non-coded date of manufacture, a scan-able Tire Identification Number, and a publicly available tire recall database. In 2007, we published a white paper, Tire Recalls and Tire Safety: The RFID Solution, that examined the failed tire recall system suggesting that manufacturers could embed RFID tags into their tires, making it possible for tire technicians to scan tires to determine recall status and age. Kumho Tire is now using RFID in all of its Korean-made tires and most other manufacturers, including Michelin, Goodyear and Bridgestone, have RFID in some tire applications. Other tire scanning technologies include laser-etched QR codes.

In August 2013, NHTSA published a Final Rule to improve consumers’ access to vehicle recall information. As required by the Moving Ahead for Progress into the 21st Century (MAP-21), NHTSA established a Vehicle Identification Number look-up tool to its website, allowing owners to plug in the number of a specific vehicle to determine if it is subject to any open recalls. SRS thought that would be the perfect time to add a TIN look-up, as long as the agency was building the website, and we submitted comments making this helpful suggestion. Here’s what we got back:

“At this time, we decline to expand the scope of the rule; the directive of MAP-21 is plainly limited to recalled vehicles.” In other words, Congress didn’t make us do it.

Today, technology can close all of these gaps and create a tire identification and recall system that functions for the safety of consumers, without imposing onerous requirements on tiremakers. But NHTSA and the tire industry have resisted bringing tires into the modern age. Since NHTSA is only going to do its job if Congress requires it, the solution will have to be legislative. We are working on it.

We support legislation that requires that tires have a non-coded date of manufacture visible on both sides of the sidewall; that manufacturers automate the identification of recalled tires; and that NHTSA adds a TIN look-up to its public vehicle safety database that is searchable by tire make and model and tire identification number; can be aggregated and downloaded.

ABC and the NTSB are moving the needle on tire safety problems that have lingered for far too long. We intend to keep the momentum going.

ABC NEWS Nightline Investigation on the Failed Tire Recall System

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ABC NEWS Good Morning America on Aged Tires

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