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NTSB considers tire registration changes

Monday, January 26, 2015 - 09:00
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has picked up the issue of tire safety, and its concern could lead to recommendations for regulatory changes affecting tire dealers.

The NTSB is investigating some 2014 tire blowout accidents that resulted in deaths, which were discussed at a meeting in Washington in early December. The meeting served as a forum for the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), which represents tire manufacturers, to push a proposal that Congress change the tire registration law to require dealers to electronically register the TIN (tire identification number) with NHTSA at the point of sale.

If Congress doesn't act, a NTSB recommendation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) could result in a regulatory change. The NTSB will be making recommendations of some sort in the near future.

Four serious accidents in 2014 resulting from disabled tires resulted in the NTSB two-day symposium on tire safety on December 9 and 10. The accidents occurred one week apart in February, in Florida and Louisiana, and resulted in multiple deaths in both instances. The NTSB has not released reports on those accidents yet.

In one case, a poorly maintained, 10-year old tire separated at high speeds. In the second, the separated tire had been the subject of a recall a year and a half earlier. NTSB staff members at the workshop cited two additional accidents in 2014 that are not the subject of investigations.

Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of training for the Tire Industry Association (TIA), believes more has to be done to prevent tire separation accidents. That includes improving the NHTSA tire registration/recall process and informing consumers about the need to register tires and maintain them. And the TIA is willing to do its part. However, Rohlwing emphasizes the entire burden for improving tire safety should not be laid on the back of dealers. He opposed requiring dealers to electronically register new tires.

Moreover, Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, is miffed the RMA sprang its electronic registration proposal on the TIA. "We are incredibly disappointed that RMA supports a legislative solution to the problem of low tire registration rates rather than educational," he says.  "TIA has been working with RMA on a number of legislative issues like tire repair and used tires over the past few years, but there have been no discussions related to mandatory tire registration. We had talked about working together to educate and improve voluntary numbers, so it was a total shock to hear that they are proposing legislation over education."

The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act was the last piece of tire safety legislation Congress passed. That was in 2000. The TREAD Act was passed because of problems with Firestone tires. The TREAD Act included directives to NHTSA to improve the endurance and resistance standards for tires, to improve the information labels on tires, and to require a warning system to indicate to drivers when a tire is significantly underinflated.

The tire registration system was established in 1970. It gives independent dealers who sell multiple brands of tires three options, all involving registration cards they are suppose to obtain from each of their manufacturers. The dealer can give the consumer the card, have them fill it out and return it to the dealer. Or the dealer can fill out the card and either mail it in, or register the information electronically with the dealer. In most instances, dealers go the first route. That has resulted in registration of no more than 20 percent of new tires, according to the RMA, a figure Rohlwing does not dispute, although the NHTSA has never sought data on that.

Tracy Norberg, general counsel and senior vice president for regulatory affairs at the RMA, points out that the return rate for tire registration cards is 100 percent by retailers in tire manufacturer-owned retail stores.

Rohlwing argues that while retailers can do better, consumer apathy is also a big part of the problem, and NHTSA could do more too, by making available lists of TINs associated with recalled tires that retailers could post in their shops, helping technicians identify recalled tires on cars which come in for service.

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