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.

Chinese Tire Recall Reveals Problems With Imports, EWR

PHILADEPHIA, PA. - A recall of 450,000 tires imported from China has exposed a loophole in the regulations that do not provide consumers with a remedy if an importer cannot afford to conduct a recall. The importer's discovery of the defect - through a spike in warranty claims - also demonstrates the importance of the public accessibility to Early Warning Reporting data.

In June, Foreign Tire Sales, of Union, N.J., appealed to NHTSA for aid in recalling an estimated 450,000 light truck tires sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS, asserting that the manufacturer, the Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Company, had left a critical component out of the tire. Hangzhou officials have denied that the tires are defective. Initially, FTS said that it would go bankrupt if it were required to recall, replace and dispose of the defective tires. But NHTSA was unmoved by FTS's hardship claims and ordered it to file a remedy plan.

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.

15-Passenger Van Deaths Rise, Despite Warnings

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V3, Issue 3, Nov. / Dec. 2006

CROWNSVILLE, MD - Despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's assertions to the contrary, their warnings about the rollover propensities of 15-passenger vans have not stemmed the death toll, according to a new analysis of government data.

Statistician Randy Whitfield of Quality Control Systems Corporation says that the cumulative rate of deaths in 15-passenger van rollovers has actually risen since NHTSA started issuing the first of four consumer advisories from 2001 to 2005. One third of all the 15-passenger van rollover deaths since 1982 occurred after April 9, 2001, when the federal government first started warning the public about the vehicle's hazards, once loaded to capacity with occupants and cargo.

SRS Again Presses NHTSA for Consumer-Friendly Tire Date of Manufacture

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V3, Issue 3, Nov. / Dec. 2006

REHOBOTH, MA - Safety Research & Strategies has renewed its call for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require tire makers to mold an easy-to-read date of manufacture on a tire's sidewall.

SRS submitted comments on December 20 urging the agency to separate this proposal from the more complicated tire performance rulemaking. SRS President Sean Kane argued that now is the perfect time for NHTSA to consider implementing a new date of manufacture labeling regulation, while tire manufacturers gear up to meet their obligations in 2009 to mold the entire Tire Identification Number (TIN) on the intended outward sidewall of each tire. In November 2004, SRS petitioned the agency for a rulemaking to require that tire makers mold a non-coded date of manufacture on their products as a step toward reducing the number of aged tire failures. SRS argued that since the agency and the tire and vehicle manufacturers agree that tire age matters, consumers need an easy-to-read the date of manufacturer on the side of their tires. The agency denied the petition and instead chose to address the issue in its tire performance standards.

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