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Published on October 11, 1999

SAFETY LOST IN STUDDED TIRE CASE

The attorneys general of Washington and Oregon have done a disservice to motorists and the Northwest Tire Dealers Association in penalizing the group for advocating use of four studded tires rather than two on most vehicles. This despite the fact that tire manufacturers, the American Automobile Association Traffic Safety Council, and the Tire Industry Safety Council recommend the practice for uniform wheel traction and predictable vehicle handling.

The case, which has consumed NWTDA officials' time for the past 10 months and resulted in a hefty fine, leaves consumers and tire dealers in a quandary.

It causes consumers to question the integrity of retailers who insist on following the industry recommended practice in the case of four-, front- and all-wheel-drive vehicles.

It also leaves tire dealers concerned about the legal ramifications if they don't insist on placing four studded tires on customers' vehicles.

The attorneys general went after the association thinking it was scheming to increase studded tire sales of members. What apparently offended the public officials was the association's use of the words ``necessary'' and ``required,'' which appeared in signs and other point-of-sale materials it prepared for dealers.

Had it merely ``recommended'' the practice, as the Montana Tire Dealers Association did in using basically the same material, the NWTDA probably would have been off the hook.

Lost in all this is what can happen if the recommended practices aren't followed.

Ask the family of an Oregon woman who died in 1996 when her car was struck by a vehicle fitted with studs on its front tires only. Then ask officials at Les Schwab Tire Centers Inc. how they feel about the $1.3 million lawsuit they faced following the accident.

The dealership's employees had advised the driver of the vehicle that studded tires were recommended on all four wheels. But the driver declined their advice.

The issue here is safety not conspiracy.

Beyond tire sales, the role of an independent tire dealer is to protect the motoring public. The same could be said of tire dealer associations—and attorneys general. The NWTDA was doing just that in advocating the use of four studded tires. It simply used the wrong wording.

Had the association had a bigger bank account, it might well have fought the decision. Instead, it chose to pay the fine without admitting wrongdoing.

Still, the NWTDA's advice remains sound. Tire dealers and other tire retailers would do well to install studded tires as recommended by the industry's associations and manufacturers.

The attorneys general of Washington and Oregon should have helped in this effort—not made it more difficult.

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