Usually we're not in favor of additional legislation impacting the industry and tire dealers.
But the TREAD Act, which Congress hastily put in place last fall following the Bridge-stone/Firestone Inc. tire recall, contains a number of provisions that will contribute to highway safety.
Probably its most significant provision calls for the revision and updating of U.S. tire standards, which now are 32 years old. Not only are the current standards woefully out of date technically, but they're less stringent than those of many other countries.
To put this into perspective, they were formulated before radial tires became prevalent in the U.S., and some of the required tests no longer apply.
The provision aims to do two things: Bring U.S. tire standards up to date technologically and establish a single tire-performance standard worldwide.
For dealers, these changes may mean some tire lines they're now carrying will need upgrading. Some may be eliminated if they can't meet the standards. But the overall quality of tires should improve. And that's a good thing.
The TREAD Act also mandates tire pressure monitors in all new vehicles no later than 2003. With underinflation a prime suspect in tire tread separations, any device that helps inform motorists about possible air loss also is a good thing.
Meeting this provision will be difficult for the trucking industry because the technology for larger vehicles still is unproven. But for cars and light trucks, adding monitors should not pose a problem.
Labeling provisions of the TREAD Act are a little more controversial. Certainly, making tire identification numbers and other data more visible on the tire's sidewall is a worthwhile objective.
One complaint arising from the Firestone recall was the difficulty in reading the Department of Transportation plant code on the sidewall. Depending on how a tire was mounted, the DOT number could face inward, creating the need to crawl under the vehicle to read it.
Putting the information on both sidewalls would eliminate this problem. However, tire makers are concerned that the weekly task of changing plates bearing the DOT code and other markings would mean suspending workers inside hot tire molds, thereby placing them at risk.
Another labeling issue is whether to eliminate the maximum inflation pressure listing from tire sidewalls. In its response to the TREAD Act, the Rubber Manufacturers Association suggests removing the maximum inflation pressure markings in order to encourage motorists to follow the vehicle maker's recommendation.
We agree that the present maximum pressure listing is confusing, but wonder whether removing it without further explanation will lead more people to overinflate their tires.
For legislation put together fairly quickly, the TREAD Act promises many positive benefits. It deserves support.