Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a symposium to discuss the state of the current recall system for tires, new technologies that could be used to increase tire safety, and ways to inform consumer when their tires have been recalled or need replacement. The symposium included key industry players such as federal regulators, tire manufacturers, and other consumer advocacy groups. The purpose of the symposium was to gather information for recommendations the NTSB will make to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a report regarding safety issues in 2015.
The primary focus of the symposium was on improving the nation's current system for recalling tires. The original Tire Identification Number (TIN) system was put in place over forty years ago and does not take advantage of new technologies that have been developed and used for other vehicle parts over the last four decades. Under the current system, consumers are still reliant on searching out tire recall information independently. Additionally, while tires do have recommendations about replacing the tire after a certain age, those recommendations and the date the tire was manufactured are hidden in the alphanumeric TIN, which can be difficult for an untrained person to decipher. Furthermore, because the TIN is not able to be read electronically, over-aged and recalled tires often go unnoticed.
Putting 21 st Century Technology To Use
The highlight of the symposium centered around the discussion of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in tires. In theory, RFID chips could be placed inside the tire during the manufacturing stage and the chip could contain important information that identifies the manufacturer, model and age of the tire.
Spokespeople for the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) claimed that installing RFID chips into tires is not practical, arguing that the presence of the chip could affect the structural integrity of the tire. They also raised questions about what information the chip would hold, how it would be used and who would be able to read it.
Proponents of installing RFID chips into tires were skeptical of those claims, noting that tire manufacturers like Michelin and Goodyear have been putting RFID chips into commercial and racing tires for several years.
As members of the NTSB continued to interrogate tire manufacturers and the NHTSA about ways to improve tire safety, they were met with the same arguments that have been repeated for years. Tire manufacturers consistently try to pass the buck onto consumers for the number of tire-related accidents on American roads and highways. Their contention is that tire-related accidents could be drastically reduced if Americans followed their recommended steps of extensively researching tires before purchase and registering the tires immediately after purchase. They also harp on the need for consumers to perform recommended service and maintenance on the tires, including: performing weekly visual inspections, monitoring air pressure and tread depth on a consistent basis, and having the tires rotated frequently. Opponents noted that while those steps would help reduce the number of faulty or worn down tires on the road, it is impossible to expect most Americans to keep up with that rigorous level of maintenance, particularly when many of them are not trained on how to visually inspect their tires for signs of deterioration.
Other Highlights From The Symposium
- Questions about validity of NHTSA data – For years, the NHTSA has pointed to a study showing that accidents caused by aged or defective tires have dropped dramatically since the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 139 was enacted. However, during a presentation on tire safety, a data-analysis firm suggested that the data the NHTSA is relying on is not accurate because it was based on a small sample of crashes involving light passenger vehicles rather than analyzing all tire-related crashes. According to their analysis of all the data, the number of tire-related crashes has remained relatively consistent over the last 20 years.
- Electronic tire registration – Tire registration cards are used so that manufacturers can notify consumers if a tire they have purchased has been recalled. Current procedures for registering tires are limited to relying on retailers to provide consumers with a registration card at the time of purchase. Even then, there is no assurance that the consumer will complete and return the card. Spokespeople for the RMA proposed shifting to an electronic system and making registration mandatory at the point of sale. Members of the Tire Industry Association rebutted that the current system is already too burdensome on retailers and suggested that retailers only be required to notify consumers of the website in which they can register their tires online. While that policy would surely be more efficient than the current paper policy, it still would rely on consumers to complete the registration process.
- Tire aging dates remain a moving target - The RMA rehashed the same old argument that tire age is not nearly as critical to preventing accidents as consumers maintaining proper inflation. They also argued that there is no specific date in which a tire becomes too old to safely drive on and that choosing a premature cut-off date would force many consumers to purchase new tires before they were actually needed. Opponents compared the argument to the federal legal limits for operating a car after drinking alcohol. While the legal limit is 0.08 blood alcohol content, it is understood that not every person will be similarly affected by alcohol at the level, but that 0.08 is simply the level of increased risk and a similar limit should be applied to tire aging.
Tire defects are one of the leading causes of accidents. If you have been involved in an accident that may have been caused by a defective tire, the tire manufacturer could be held at least partially liable for the accident. It is important that you consult with an attorney about the facts of the accident to determine which parties are liable. Contact our motor vehicle accident attorneys today to learn how we can help.