UK Tire Age Bills Moves Forward

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put aside tire age regulations, Great Britain is inching forward with a bill to ban tires older than 10 years on commercial buses and coaches.

The legislation is the result of a campaign by Frances Molloy, whose 18-year-old son Michael died on July 16, 2012 along with another 23-year-old passenger and the driver in a bus crash caused by the catastrophic failure of a 19-and-a-half-year-old tire. The tire, with legal tread-depth, had been purchased secondhand by Merseypride Travel, which owned the 52-seat coach. In December 2013, after a public inquiry by the North West Traffic Commissioner, Merseypride lost its license to operate public vehicles.

The bill, sponsored by Walton MP Steve Rotheram, requires that Public Service Vehicle operator’s license be granted on the condition that the tires on the vehicle be no more than ten years old. It is an amendment to an existing The House of Commons had ordered the Tyres (Buses and Coaches) Bill 2015 to be printed in July, after its first reading, and later this month, the bill is scheduled for a second reading in the House of Commons. (These are very preliminary stages in the British legislative process. The second reading allows members of Parliament to generally debate its merits. The bill gets closer scrutiny in the next, committee stage, in which experts and interest groups can testify. If the bill survives the committee stage, it returns to the chamber for a debate.)

Molloy has been lobbying for a tire age law since 2012, drumming up political and industry support. In 2012, Molloy and accident re-constructionist David Price met with Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin, who reports directly to the Prime Minister, to solicit his support. While McLoughlin declined to support a tire age bill, in December 2013, the Department of Transport issued guidance for firms registered with the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency: “As a precaution, the Department for Transport strongly recommends that tyres over 10 years old should not be fitted to the front axles of buses and coaches.”

In October, Molloy, chief executive of Health@Work and chair of Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust, spoke at Brityrex International’s TyreTalk seminars. Molloy also won the backing of the Chief Fire Officers Association – fire departments respond to road crashes – and The National Tyre Distributors Association, which represents new tire retailers.

Molloy says that the NTDA acknowledged that tire age was a conversation that the organization’s members didn’t want to have, but had to have. She made her position clear:

She was willing to listen to the science of tire aging in order to develop the most appropriate policy: “But [the solution] cannot be anything but legislation,” she said. “It has to be something in law, that if you don’t follow it there will be consequences. I’m not negotiating on that.”

In advance of the second reading, Molloy will be featured in a BBC documentary called Inside the Commons. The February 17 episode will show Rotheram’s work with Molloy on tire aging, and she hopes it will win the proposal more advocates in that chamber.  But, if the timing of the documentary episode is good, the timing of the second reading is not. It will be the last of three bills to be heard on a Friday afternoon. Molloy and her bill have to keep at least 100 MPs around long enough to support it, before it can advance to the Committee stage. If it fails to garner enough support, any further legislative action will have to wait until after the general elections in May.

“The second reading is very important, there’s a lot of challenges,” Molloy says. “But I will not give up. I will keep going and I will wear them down before they wear me down.”

Tire Industry gets Anti-Aging Reality Check

It’s not often we encourage our readers to read a trade journal article, but a recent  commentary in Tire Review by Editor Jim Smith is a go-to.  The article is shockingly honest and puts the brakes on the industry’s claim of victory following NHTSA’s announcement that it wouldn’t pursue a tire aging standard. 

Smith also points out the agency’s findings on tire aging – while no surprise to tire and automakers – should make it abundantly clear the industry’s problems are far from over.  And it’s refreshing that we’re not the only ones who are continually confounded by NHTSA’s reports.  “NHTSA couldn’t decide on what it is defending” says Criswell.  Take a read of Decoding NHTSA’s Tire Aging Report.

If you missed our earlier blog see: NHTSA to Initiate Consumer Awareness Campaign on Tire Age – No Standard Needed

[Note: The initial version of the Tire Review article was credited to Kristen Criswell and later changed to Jim Smith.]

NHTSA to Initiate Consumer Awareness Campaign on Tire Age – No Standard Needed

NHTSA to Initiate Consumer Awareness Campaign on Tire Age – No Standard Needed.    

No surprise that NHTSA isn’t going to regulate tire age – but now that agency plans to initiate a consumer awareness campaign about tire aging after years of research data showing that aging can present a safety problem particularly in the high heat states.

NHTSA has (again) announced that it will not create a safety standard based on tire age.  In a recently released report NHTSA stated “At this time, the agency does not believe it is necessary for motor vehicle safety to add a tire aging requirement to its light vehicle tire standard.”  The basis for this decision was that revised safety standards promulgated following the passage of the TREAD Act in 2000 made tires more robust.  The agency also claimed that “light vehicle tires are performing better on the road as reflected in our most recent crash data” and that “TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) on light vehicle tires since 2007 has helped alert consumers to underinflation that is also known to degrade tires faster.”

This comes as no surprise to veteran NHTSA watchers and those who have followed the tire age debate during the past decade. 

“The real problem associated with aged tires and aged tire failures is rooted not in the lack of a new test regimen, but in the tire labeling and manufacturers unwillingness to adequately educate dealers and motorists about when tires should be removed from service” said Sean Kane, President of Safety Research & Strategies, a long-time advocate for addressing tire aging hazards. 

It is undisputed that tire age is a factor in tire safety.  NHTSA research data has shown for years that tire aging can present a safety problem particularly in the high heat states.

In November 2004 Safety Research & Strategies petitioned NHTSA to initiate rulemaking to require a consumer-friendly date of manufacture molded into tire sidewalls and requested a Consumer Advisory. SRS’ petition requested that tire labeling rulemaking commence separately from the tire performance standards.  The agency denied this petition and the result was the continuation of an antiquated and unknown date code buried in the Tire Identification Number (TIN).  SRS reiterated its request in 2006 for the issuance of a Consumer Advisory when NTHSA was modifying the TIN requirements.  In a 2012 submission to NHTSA, SRS again asked for a requirement that tire manufacturers use a non-coded date of manufacture, mounted on both sidewalls so that consumers can easily determine the age of a tire and follow the age recommendations of auto and tiremakers. The agency did neither an advisory nor rulemaking on labeling and again allowed the industry to continue with a virtually indecipherable code to the dis-benefit of consumer safety. 

Nearly 20 years ago, automakers, such as Toyota and Volkswagen, first acknowledged that tires have limited service life – regardless of use or tread depth and that aged tires increased the risk of failure. In their 1990 owners’ manuals, foreign automakers warned motorists against the use of tires older than 6 years.  These advisories followed studies published in Germany in the late-1980s that found a disproportionate number of tire failures in tires older than 6 years.  Throughout that decade, tire age notices spread to many other vehicle manufacturers’ manuals, but the issue received little attention until federal investigations into the ATX and Wilderness tires showed that they were more likely to fail after several years in service. In the last few years, tiremakers Continental, Michelin, Bridgestone-Firestone, Yokohama and Cooper have also acknowledged that tires have limited service life and have issued Technical Bulletins specifying that all tires should be removed after 10 years regardless of the remaining tread depth. The bulletins also advised consumers to have their tires inspected annually once a tire reaches 5 years old.  Vehicle manufacturers and some tire associations have taken a stricter approach, recommending tire replacement after 6 years, regardless of tread depth. 

These guidelines are fairly useless without a fundamental change to the way a tire’s age is discerned. If you can’t find or understand the code, how will you know how old your tire is? The non-coded date of manufacture and the difficulty in locating the TIN hamstrings any conscientious consumer trying to follow them.

Aged tires, with acceptable tread and no significant visible signs of wear, find their way onto vehicles in a variety of ways: little or unused spares are rotated into service, consumers purchase used tires or buy a “new” tire that may have been sitting in inventory for 10 years, or consumers keep an old tire on a little-used vehicle.

This lack of visual indicators accounts for the continuing hazard of aged tires to consumers and service personnel, regardless of industry warnings and recommendations. It also underscores the need for a quick and easy way to determine a tire’s age. Consumers and service providers can’t adhere to safety guidelines, unless the tire age is readily accessible and understandable. Instead, they are left to decode the 11- or 12-symbol alphanumeric TIN. 

The result: Preventable death and injury crashes. SRS has provided NHTSA with a steady stream of catastrophic failures of tires that appear serviceable but have internal material degradation due to age and heat.  For their part, the manufacturers have settled hundreds of cases involving death and injury.  

Last year NHTSA’s Dr. Merisol Medri’s SAE presentation (click here for a copy) cited the following:

“Based on analysis of data from 2005-2007 including databases (NMVCCS, GES, CDS), 90 fatalities and over 3,200 injuries occurred annually as the result of crashes that were probably caused by tire aging or where tire aging was a significant factor.”

While NHTSA’s taken its position on tire age rulemaking, the non-regulatory National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) earlier this year announced its first tire safety investigation that will examine tire age and recalled tires (also the subject of recent ABC Nightline story).   

According to Sean Kane “the public are still at risk because they have little or no information about a mostly invisible hazard. The tire industry, vehicle manufacturers, and NHTSA recognize that tire age degradation presents a hazard – even on tires that have little use. It’s past time to give consumers the same level of awareness and the tools to protect themselves.” 

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? Continue reading

Antique Tires!

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When you’re trolling ebay looking for good deals on antiques, don’t forget to peruse the vintage tires. Some enterprising soul doing business as TireNetUSA has put up for purchase nearly 1,000 odd-ball, and very old “new” tires. Check it out:

One (1) New 225/45R16 Hankook Ventus Plus Tire. Free Shipping.  This tire is new, not a blem, and has never been mounted.  Please check fitment before you bid, and e-mail with any questions.  This tire is 1998 production. 

Seventy-nine bucks and free shipping? Such a deal!

Our interest was piqued by an ad we saw in Tire Business. It proclaimed: “We’re not afraid of older discontinued product and will make fair offers to clear out all unwanted product.” Hmm, what would someone be doing with “older discontinued” product? One, two, three, Google and we had our answer. They are being re-sold on ebay.

And that Hankook Ventus Plus? It’s not even the oldest tire for sale. Mr. or Ms. TireNetUSA is offering 14 tires pre-1998, including six items from 1995 production. Yes! 19-year-old tires! There’s a pair of 8.00 – 16.5LT LRD 8 Ply Goodyear Workhorse Tires for the low, low price of $279. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, a bargain at twice the price!

To be fair, only about a tenth of TireNetUSA’s stock at this particular moment is 10 years old or older. Many of the new ties are actually new – 2013 production, and fairly new, 2012- 2010.

This is what happens, dear regulators, when you research and research tire age, continue to publish your research up to the present day, but never take one teeny weeny regulatory step off base. This is what happens, industry age deniers, when you fight tooth and nail for a status quo that has fewer and fewer adherents. And yay, tire manufacturers! Some of you have dutifully issued technical service bulletins recommending the removal and disposal of tires 10 years and older, but not one of you have done a credible job of educating consumers, tire technicians or retailers about these recommendations. All-around epic fail. 

It’s all good, though. Each TireNetUSA ad comes with its very own disclaimer: “If this concerns you at all, please do not purchase this tire.  Tires will not be taken back due to age.” So, you can’t return them. What happens when you use them and suffer a catastrophic tread separation?

Anyway, in the interests of commerce, we thought we’d class up TireNetUSA’s inventory wanted ad. You know, give it a literary uplift. Here goes, with apologies to Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired tires, your poor 11-year-old Pirellis,

Your huddled Hankooks from 1998 yearning to be mounted,

The wretched refuse of your Phoenix warehouse.

Send these, the ancient, tread-tost to me.”

Yes, we’ve re-written the ad. The lawsuits practically write themselves.

More on Tire Aging

Tire Age Crusade in UK Begins

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Advocacy has always been a long game. Frances Molloy, the mother of a young British musician who died in a bus crash caused by a the failure of a 19-year-old tire, has met her first hurdle in a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport, declining to take any immediate action to limit the age of tires fitted on commercial buses.

Secretary Patrick McLoughlin held out the possibility of a more comprehensive action “including – possibly – through the imposition of restrictions on the use of tyres above a certain age via the existing vehicle inspection regime,” but said more research needed to be done.

“He’s given a lot of words,” Molloy says. “There’s nothing in this response. It’s just basically, I will commission research. Research is a delaying tactic. It’s stalling. We already know tires have a shelf life.”

McLoughlin met with Molloy and David Price, an expert in crash forensic analysis, on November 20 to talk about policy responses to the death of 18-year-old son Michael Molloy, who died in September 2012 with another 23-year-old passenger and the driver in a bus crash caused by the catastrophic failure of a tire with legal tread depth, but was 19-and-a-half-year-old. The tire had been purchased secondhand by Merseypride Travel, which owned the 52-seat coach. Michael’s death has resulted in posthumous honors involving his passion for music, but Frances Molloy is aiming for a comprehensive policy change.

McLoughlin’s letter to Maria Eagle, a member of the House of Commons representing the Molloy’s neighborhood in Liverpool, makes clear that the rubber industry’s reluctance to acknowledge its own long-held technical research on the relationship between rubber age and robustness took precedence. McLoughlin wrote:

“Although research is limited, it is clear to me that the association between the age of a tyre and its structural integrity is not fully understood. I noted the advice that Mr Price provided in our meeting but also recognise that the tyre industry suggests that other factors such as the maintenance of correct inflation pressures, regular use, and inspection for damage are more critical than a single limit on the age of a tyre. I have noted research from the USA that indicates artificially-aged tyres can fail safety tests but also note that their study replicated conditions of high ambient temperature and therefore cannot necessarily be directly related to conditions of use found here in the UK.” Continue reading

Will the UK Be the First with a Tire Age Rule?

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has had an open rulemaking docket on tire age degradation (i.e., thermo-oxidative aging) since 2003, but will the UK beat the U.S. to actual tire age legislation? Frances Molloy isn’t in an international race, but she is determined to see Great Britain adopt a tire age policy sooner rather than later. Molloy’s 18-year-old son Michael perished in September 2012 along with another 23-year-old passenger and the driver in a bus crash caused by the catastrophic failure of a 19-and-a-half-year-old tire. The tire had been purchased secondhand by Merseypride Travel, which owned the 52-seat coach. It had legal tread depth, but was older than Michael.

“The risk to life from old tires — no one can put a price on that. It’s been complete devastation,” says Molloy of the impact on her family. Michael, a promising musician, was on his way home after attending a musical festival in the Isle of Wight. “He was only 18 — there was no other reason for the crash in the inquest — other than the tire.”

Molloy, forensic crash investigator David Price and Surrey Coroner Richard Travers are campaigning to change the laws in Great Britain to prevent another such crash. In July, Travers formally announced that he would be writing a rule-43 report to alert the Secretary of State for Transport to the threat aged tires pose to public health. Travers’ report gives the Secretary a matched set. Three years ago, the Gloucestershire coroner did the same, after the 2009 death of Nazma Shaheen, whose crash was tied to the failure of a 13-year-old tire.

On November 20, Molloy and Price met with Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin, who reports directly to the Prime Minister. He assured her a response in two weeks. Continue reading

Thoroughly Modern Tire Dealer – Not.

Bob Ulrich’s column If the TIA is the Puppet Master is NHTSA the Puppet? in February 14ths Modern Tire Dealer, casts me as an impatient crusader who has single-handedly ginned up a non-existent controversy about the dangers of tire age and used tires in the service of trial lawyers.

The issue of tire age surfaced in the U.S. in the wake of the Ford Explorer/Firestone Wilderness ATX. In 2003, NHTSA fulfilled a Congressional mandate by initiating a tire age rulemaking, which sought manufacturers’ comments. The industry did not exactly distinguish itself. Its responses ranged from denial of any problem to ignorance of testing, analysis or the very concept of tire age.

Our research showed that industry was studying rubber oxidation and heat as early as the 1930s. We also located a pair of German studies from the 1980s which concluded that tires failed at a greater rate after six years and recommended manufacturers alert consumers to prevent potential crashes. We identified the vehicle and tire makers who followed that advice, publishing tire age recommendations as early as the 1990s. Not one industry representative alerted the agency to wealth of information it had about tire age.    Continue reading

Tire Aging: Is NHTSA Ready to Make Policy?

Last month, at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ annual government-industry conference, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety standards engineer presented a summary of the agency’s tire aging work, which continues despite not producing any regulatory changes.

The issue that took center stage more than a decade ago, in the wake of the Ford Firestone rollover scandal. The deadly Firestone tires at the center of the controversy met the federal safety standards but nonetheless were de-treading at high rates after several years in service.  In 2001, Congress suggested that the agency consider the feasibility of a tire aging test, and the agency and Ford embarked on a series of experiments to create an artificial oven-aging test for tires. In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users directed the Secretary of Transportation document NHTSA’s progress on tire aging research, and its findings and recommendations. The agency’s 2007 report to Congress did not make any policy recommendations, but did allow that it was “evaluating the feasibility of a regulation related to tire aging by analyzing the safety problem (tire aging as a significant causal factor in crashes) and potential benefits and costs of a requirement for minimum performance based on an aging method.”

Six years later, no policy and the tire aging docket NHTSA opened in 2005 is officially closed for comments. But the agency (and Safety Research & Strategies — see SRS Tire Safety) continues to file the results of its tire age research periodically. (The most recent agency submission was in July 2012, a report entitled: “Tire Aging Testing Phase 5.”) Could NHTSA’s Dr. Merisol Medri’s SAE presentation herald the arrival of a rulemaking? Her Powerpoint was not released, (click here for a copy) but our ears perked up at this slide:

“Based on analysis of data from 2005-2007 including databases (NMVCCS, GES, CDS), 90 fatalities and over 3,200 injuries occurred annually as the result of crashes that were probably caused by tire aging or where tire aging was a significant factor.”

This statistic stands out against the agency’s numerical analysis offered in the 2007 Research Report to Congress on Tire Aging: “From 1994 to 2004, NHTSA estimates that about 400 fatalities, annually, may be attributed to tire failures of all types.”

Doing the rough math — does this mean that about quarter of the annual tire-related fatalities are due to tire age? And, how did NHTSA arrive at that figure? Tire Identification Numbers (TIN) – the only way to discern a tire’s age – are not available in the public version of some of those datasets. (We are aware that NHTSA has begun to collect TINs for some sub-sets of crash data.) According to Medri the agency will be publishing a more detailed account of its research in a new report that will be published in the tire aging docket, at some unspecified time. Continue reading

Another Domino Falls: GM Adds Tire Age Warning

On July 3, 2010, three generations of the Taylor family were returning from a family vacation in Disneyland to their home in Phoenix, when the right rear tire on their 2003 Chevy Trailblazer experienced a catastrophic tread separation. John Taylor, a retiree who worked all 38 years of his career at General Motors, lost control of the vehicle on I-10, about 45 minutes from home. The Trailblazer rolled over, fatally crushing Taylor and killing his 8-year-old grandson Quinn Levi, who was ejected when the third-row seat belt unlatched. Taylor’s wife, Eileen, his son-in-law, Bill, and his daughter Susanne Levi, who bought the Trailblazer with her father’s employee discount, suffered upper body injuries. The youngest son, secured in a child safety seat, was unharmed.

The tire that failed was a seven-year-old full-sized spare that had been rotated into service in 2007. Before that, it stayed stored in the spare well, right up near the engine exhaust system, where the hot exhaust pipe, combined with the brutally hot climate of Phoenix, accelerated the thermo-oxidation of the BF Goodrich Rugged Trail tire, diminishing its strength.

“This was the perfect storm” says Phoenix attorney Curt Clausen, who represents the Taylor-Levi family in a civil lawsuit against manufacturer General Motors. Continue reading