WASHINGTON—In the wake of the Firestone recall, the Rubber Manufacturers Association has unveiled a new consumer information program to educate motorists about tire safety.
The association went all out to introduce the program Nov. 15. It took out display ads in the Washington Post and other newspapers, established a safety- related Web site—www.rma.org/tiresafety—and announced a whirlwind tour of Houston, San Diego, Atlanta and Boston to promote the effort.
The new program—called "PART," an acronym for Pressure, Alignment, Rotation, Tread—bears the RMA imprint rather than that of the Tire Industry Safety Council. TISC, the RMA's safety information subsidiary founded in 1969, has been inactive for the past few years.
When asked at a Nov. 15 press conference if TISC were "still alive," RMA President Donald B. Shea answered, "No," but otherwise spoke of the group as if it still exists.
Calling PART a "multiyear, multimillion-dollar program," Mr. Shea said the impetus for the campaign came from U.S. motorists themselves.
"Increasingly, drivers have told us that they want this information, they need this information and they expect this information from us," he said.
Underscoring the need for the PART program, Mr. Shea said, was a nationwide consumer survey that showed 77 percent of motorists got failing grades when it came to knowledge about tire safety.
The survey consisted of phone calls to 400 randomly selected households—targeting motorists who were responsible for the maintenance of the primary household vehicle—to ask basic questions about tire safety and maintenance, said Sue Jolly of Fleishman-Hillard, the consulting firm that performed the study.
"Seventy-eight percent of the respondents claimed they knew the exact recommended pressure for the tires on their cars, but only 45 percent knew where to find the correct psi number," Ms. Jolly said.
Nine out of 10 said they had checked their tire pressure within the last six months, she said, but only 32 percent identified "tire-related maintenance" as an example of auto maintenance work they performed themselves, as opposed to 71 percent who said they changed their own oil.
Only 28 percent knew the recommended mileage interval for rotating their tires, the RMA said in its PART press kit, and 22 percent chose one-sixteenth of an inch as the tread depth at which a tire should be replaced. Seventy-three percent said they had a tire pressure gauge, but 60 percent said they had never checked the air pressure in their spares.
The PART publicity and Web site give motorists helpful hints about the need to maintain tires properly, including periodic alignments, rotation every 6,000 miles and checking air pressure at least once a month and before any long trip, Mr. Shea said.
"We want to let drivers know that they should take five minutes a month to check five tires, including the spare," he said. "It's very important that you check that, along with the tires hitting the road."
The entire U.S. tire industry has been under intense media and public scrutiny since the Aug. 9 beginning of the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT tires, along with figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listing 119 deaths and more than 500 injuries associated with those tires.
"I think good can come out of the heightened coverage, particularly if, in that coverage, we incorporate messages about what you can do on a preventive basis," Mr. Shea said.
At the same time, NHTSA figures put the Firestone recall in perspective, he added.
"There are more than 830 million non-commercial tires on U.S. roads, running 2.4 trillion miles every year," he said. Of the "35,000 or 36,000" traffic fatalities NHTSA records every year, "only 1.8 percent are tire-related—not tire-caused, but tire-related."
The RMA is talking to "various stakeholders" in tire safety to gain their support of the PART program and links on their Web pages to the PART Web site, Mr. Shea said. While he declined to mention all the stakeholders, saying he hadn't had a chance to approach all of them, he did name the American Automobile Association and the Tire Association of North America as groups that had agreed to participate in the program.
Today's tires "are so good that people tend to forget about them," said David Van Sickle, AAA director of automotive and consumer information. "They need to be reminded to care for their tires. We're pleased to support the RMA in this effort."
TANA Executive Vice President Ross Kogel called the RMA initiative "a terrific effort" and said the two groups will meet over the coming weeks to specifically define TANA's role in the project.
"It's absolutely crucial that the tire industry offer programs to educate the public," Mr. Kogel said. TANA has its own materials, he added, including a poster on proper tire inflation, and will help distribute RMA materials to TANA member dealers, who are a natural contact point for consumers.
"We must get as much information out to consumers as possible," Mr. Kogel said. "Tires are a terrific, well-engineered product, but they need maintenance and care, and we need to educate consumers about that."
Mr. Shea said the RMA already has plans to expand the PART program, including information in Spanish and multimedia driver's education presentations "for new drivers who've grown up without full-service gas stations." He did not say how much has been spent on the program so far or how much the expansions will cost.
Tire Business Staff Reporter Chris Collins contributed to this story.