RICHMOND, Va.—After two meetings, a committee commissioned by the Virginia General Assembly is primed to draft a report on whether the state should issue safety and quality standards for retreaded tires. Meanwhile, retreaders are striving to come up with proactive informational campaigns to combat negative publicity and attempts to penalize them for the problem of blown-tire ``alligators'' on the nation's highways—pieces of rubber which, they contend, are just as likely or more so to come from a new tire as a retread.
Retreaders have to keep trying to inform truck fleets and the general public on the necessity of proper tire inflation and maintenance, according to Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau.
``If we don't, then we'll have regulations, which will be very disadvantageous for us and for everyone who depends on retreads,'' he said.
The state assembly mandated the committee's formation through the passage of a bill sponsored by Delegate Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake. Mr. Spruill declined to serve on the committee, and those who are serving on it said there are no committee members who seem in favor of state standards on retreads.
Instead, the committee's sentiment tends more toward that of Steve Akridge, executive director of the Virginia Tire & Automotive Service Dealers Association and a committee member. ``The retread industry was probably unfairly targeted in the wording of the original bill, since it mentioned retreads specifically,'' Mr. Akridge said.
Mr. Spruill also declined to tell committee members who presented the bill to him. Steve Flaherty, a captain with the Virginia State Police and chairman of the committee, tried to find the bill's supporters, but apparently to no avail.
The two committee meetings so far, on May 4 and July 15, were informational in nature, with little discussion, committee members said. Those members were assigned research projects on various aspects of the tire debris problem at the first meeting, and presented their findings at the second.
Frank Jenkins, a transportation engineer senior in the Traffic Engineering Department of the Virginia Department of Transportation, gathered tire pieces from the side of I-295, the interstate connector surrounding Richmond, as his project. He then asked Terry Westhafer, president of Central Tire Corp. in Verona, Va., to study the pieces to determine whether the tires were new or retreaded and how the blowouts occurred.
Mr. Jenkins brought the tire pieces to Central Tire July 21. He estimated there were ``75 to 100'' pieces altogether, large and small, and Mr. Westhafer said they came from ``close to 20 tires'' in all.
Of the tires Mr. Jenkins brought him, Mr. Westhafer said only one was a brand-new retread, which had failed because ``the retreader missed a nail hole in the casing.'' The group included at least four intermodal tires and two new passenger tires, as well as new and retreaded truck tires.
``In half or more of the medium-duty tires, we found punctures,'' Mr. Westhafer said. ``We were surprised we could find so many in which we could identify the cause of the blowout.'' Mr. Jenkins agreed with Mr. Westhafer's findings. ``A couple of them looked like bolts had pierced them,'' he said.
A photographer took pictures of the tire pieces to give to the Virginia State Police for its draft report, which it is scheduled to complete for the committee's consideration by late September. The final report is due to the assembly by Dec. 1.
Mr. Akridge said the committee had pretty much come to ``the conclusion that it is not necessary to try and formulate standards for retreads.'' Other committee members, however, were more guarded.
``We are still gathering information,'' Mr. Flaherty said. ``What we see as a key issue is tire maintenance and pressure—making sure the pre-trip check includes looking at the tires to make sure they're in good condition.''
For Mr. Brodsky, making the public understand the necessity of tire maintenance is a full-time crusade.
``The tire debris problem is ongoing, and it seems to be exacerbating itself,'' he said. ``This is partly due to summer heat, but the perception is different. Retreads are responsible for a large percentage of the gators on the road, but by no means all. Because of the perception, it's very important to continue with our program of education.''
One of TRIB's activities is protesting news stories that present misinformation about retreads—most recently a negative story about truck retreads broadcast July 3 on the NBC-TV affiliate in Roanoke, Va.
While the informational program is working, Mr. Brodsky said, the retread industry still needs to get the message out, particularly among truckers.
``Truckers know about tire maintenance, but they're quick to forget it,'' he said. ``It's very difficult to maintain proper air pressure.''