February 22, 2012
It was all hands on deck yesterday afternoon at the Maryland House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee as tire makers and retailers tried to beat back another state effort to require tire sellers to disclose a tire’s age to consumers.
HB 729, Consumer Protection – Tire Age – Required Notice, requires tire sellers and distributors to place a label on the tire displaying the month and year in which the tire was manufactured and a statement about tire age and tire deterioration. The tire seller would also have to put the tire’s age on the receipt and have the customer sign a written disclosure about tire age. Customers would receive a copy of the disclosure, and the retailers would retain a copy of it for an unspecified amount of time. The penalty for violating the statute would be not more than $500.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association opposes the bill. But it was the Tire Industry Association that immediately sought to mobilize its Maryland members to pack the hearing. The tire-sellers organization scheduled a pre-hearing lunch to hear a briefing from TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield on how to “stop its passage.”
“This is the most important expenditure of time this year in protecting your business from government intrusion,” TIA added.
Sean Kane of Safety Research & Strategies, who submitted written testimony in support of HB 729, marveled at how the RMA has successfully “co-opted the dealers, making them think it’s in their interest to work with industry instead of consumers.”
The bill boasts 22 sponsors. Its chief sponsor, Delegate Benjamin F. Kramer, said he initially developed an interest in the tire aging issue after a member of ABATE of Maryland, the state’s largest association of motorcycle riders, told him about an incident in which a motorcyclist suffered a tire-related crash. The tire had been purchased new, but actually had been manufactured several years earlier.
“It’s a far broader and far more relevant issue than I had imagined, and the more I have looked into it the more I am convinced it is the proper thing to do,” Kramer said before the hearing.
Kramer said that the pushback from the tire industry was pretty ferocious. One statehouse operative joked that Kramer’s tire aging bill ought to be re-named the “The Lobbyist Full Employment Act.”
The bill has supporters in ABATE of Maryland, which also put out an action alert to urge its members to contact the committee in support of HB 729. The organization’s website noted that the bill was “getting an amazing amount of pushback from the tire dealers and manufacturers. What are they trying to hide? That they want to be able to keep selling old “new” tires without letting the buying public know how old the tires really are?
“All this bill really calls for is that tire distributors give information to the public IN PLAIN LANGUAGE that they should have anyway. They will have to tell us what they are selling and what we are buying,” the action alert said.
Kramer says that many of the opposition’s arguments are disingenuous – casting it as an onerous government mandate or maintaining that emphasizing the importance of tire age will give consumers a false sense of security, causing them to neglect routine tire maintenance.
“If that’s the best they’ve got, shame on them,” Kramer said. “This is all about understanding a real-life phenomenon that happens routinely. And all we’re seeking to do is provide a cautionary message to consumers.”
And yet, this strategy was successful three years ago in California, when a similar bill was withdrawn. Although AB 496 passed the Assembly Floor by a vote of 49-29, the bill’s sponsors did not have the votes to get it out of the Senate Business, Professions & Economic Development Committee and was pulled from consideration at the request of its sponsors.
Kramer said that he would not withdraw the bill, seeing it through a vote in committee, at least. He would not speculate on the bill’s eventual success.
Kane thinks bills like Kramer’s will eventually succeed, because the consensus on the importance of tire aging is growing. While it’s certainly not the sole factor in tire safety, it’s an important one.
“The reason that these bills continue to be introduced is that industry and NHTSA have yet to do anything meaningful to educate consumers about tire aging,” he says. “Eventually states will pass this type of a requirement and the industry will be forced do what it should have done years ago.”
For more background on tire aging see /safety-issues/tires/