Published on July 11, 2014

NHTSA will not seek tire-age safety standard

WASHINGTON (July 11, 2014) — The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) and Tire Industry Association (TIA) are hailing as good news a decision from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that the agency will not seek to create a safety standard based on tire age.

“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,” NHTSA said in the executive summary of its report, “Tire Aging: A Summary of NHTSA’s Work.”

NHTSA gave three reasons for its decision. First, current tire safety standards — which NHTSA revised as a mandate of the Transportation Safety Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000 — have helped make tires more robust, the agency said.

Oven-aged tires compliant with the new standards are more resistant to degradation than oven-aged tires manufactured before the new standards went into effect, it said.

“Second, light vehicle tires are performing better on the road as reflected in our most recent crash data,” NHTSA said. “Third, a mandatory 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.”

Keep checking back to tirebusiness.com for updates to this story.

Because tire aging is a concern for spare tires and in hot-weather states, NHTSA is coordinating an initiative to raise consumer awareness about tire-aging issues and how to prevent tire failures related to aging, the agency said.

“Campaign initiatives and outreach efforts to consumers, partners and the automotive service industry will include social media messages, fact sheets, infographics and other web content,” it said.

The report was dated March 2014 and was placed in the NHTSA docket in May. Abigail Morgan, a NHTSA safety standards engineer, said at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference last April that her agency would decide this spring whether to pursue a tire aging standard.

Daniel Zielinski, RMA senior vice president of public affairs, said the NHTSA report was good news for the tire industry.

The RMA and its members have commented extensively to NHTSA during the long process of tire-aging tests, Mr. Zielinski said during a July 11 conference call on the NHTSA report and other issues. The agency has conducted five separate phases of tire-aging tests since 2002.

“Over time, the agency was not able to articulate, at least to us, what the benefits of a tire aging rule would be,” he said. “They believe tires are performing better than ever, because of the new safety standards.

“I would add that the evolution of tire technology has also played a role, as manufacturers strive to improve tire performance,” Mr. Zielinski said.

The NHTSA report has nothing to do with the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of two February 2014 crashes allegedly involving tire failure, Mr. Zielinski said in response to a question. The two crashes — both involving tires made by Michelin North America Inc. — caused multiple deaths.

The NTSB investigation covers all aspects of tire performance, not just tire age, Mr. Zielinski said.

Commenting on the report, Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, said: "In the process of opposing tire aging regulations in the state of Maryland and other states, we've been consistent in our message that NHTSA should be the only government agency to determine if legislation was necessary to establish a safety standard regarding the age of a tire.

"Hopefully this will put an end to individual states' attempting to pass their own regulations that arbitrarily place a limit on the safe service life of a tire."

Kevin Rohlwing, TIA senior vice president of training, added: "We've said all along that any type of legislation regarding the safe service life of a tire must be supported by data. It's ironic that the crash data and studies cited by NHTSA in the report are the same that we've been using to show there is no correlation between the age of a tire and safety. FMVSS No. 139 has been successful in addressing Congress' tire aging concerns so this matter should be put to rest."

During the call, Mr. Zielinski said the RMA will continue to pursue passage in various state legislatures of legislation designed to get unsafe used tires off the road.

The RMA came close to success when it got its used tire language attached to a state budget bill, according to Mr. Zielinski.

“We came within two days of getting it passed, but then the language was stripped out,” he said.

The association will continue to seek passage of used tire legislation in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, Mr. Zielinski said.

Meanwhile, the RMA succeeded in getting language added to the newly passed Colorado scrap tire management bill that makes it illegal to sell an unsafe used tire in the state, according to Mr. Zielinski. Colorado defines an unsafe used tire as whatever would cause a tire to fail a state safety inspection, he said.

But Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. (SRS) in Rehoboth, Mass., and a longtime advocate of tire aging standards, said it doesn’t regard tire-aging tests as the solution to the problem of tires that fail in service because of age-related degradation.

“We’ve been asking NHTSA for tire aging rules since 2004, and we’ve never asked for testing — never,” Mr. Kane told Tire Business. “All we asked for were non-coded dates of manufacture so consumers could understand them, and consumer and dealer education so people would know where to look for the information.”

For the lack of this information, many motorists have died because of dangerously aged tires that looked sound to the naked eye, Mr. Kane claimed.

“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,” Mr. Kane said in a blog posted on his company's website.

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 To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com.

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