HILTON HEAD, S.C.—Tire safety regulations are on the fast track at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to speakers at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference.
The short deadlines mandated by Congress may prove a problem to the trucking industry, particularly where regulations requiring tire pressure sensors are concerned, speakers said at the March 21-23 conference held in Hilton Head. But passenger tire manufacturers are confident their pressure monitoring systems will exceed all potential federal standards.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is acting quickly to meet the deadlines Congress imposed, according to George J. Soodoo, division leader in the NHTSA Vehicle Dynamics Division. Federal standards for tire safety testing must be completed by June 1, 2002, as must regulations improving tire labeling to aid motorists in identifying tires involved in a recall.
Perhaps the most difficult of these rulemakings will be that involving tire pressure warning systems, which must be published in the Federal Register by Nov. 1, 2001, in order to go into effect by the congressional deadline of Nov. 1, 2003.
According to the Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, the pressure warning monitors must notify motorists when tires are "significantly underinflated," according to Mr. Soodoo.
"Congress left it up to us to define `significantly underinflated,'|" he said. "The agency is still reviewing the congressional transcript to see whether the mandate covers just light vehicles or all vehicles. At this point, we've not yet made the decision whether a truck TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) is required in the final rule."
Mr. Soodoo said he didn't anticipate any industry protests based on the short lead-time for the TPMS regulation, as with the now-repealed ergonomics regulation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "The TPMS rule is a congressional mandate, whereas the ergonomics rule wasn't," he said.
If the final rule does demand a truck TPMS, the trucking industry will have trouble trying to meet the Nov. 1, 2003, deadline, said Peggy J. Fisher, president of Fleet Tire Consulting, Rochester Hills, Mich.
The issue of TPMS is far from new to the trucking industry, Ms. Fisher noted. Back in 1994, The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations developed Recommended Practice 228 Tire Radio Frequency Identification Guidelines governing diagnostic radio frequency tags for truck tires.
This "very rudimentary" guideline was revised in 1999 to accommodate both the rapidly advancing tire tag technology and the determinations of different truck fleets on how to use it, Ms. Fisher said.
The tag is a single-chip, solid-state electronic device with an integral external antenna, she said. Each tag transmits encoded data on pressure, mileage etc., to a reading device which translates the data into meaningful information.
There are, Ms. Fisher explained, three types of reading devices available to truckers:
Gate readers, which record the tire data as they roll by at 15-20 mph;
Hand-held readers, to perform yard checks on tires at outlying locations by fleet or dealer maintenance personnel; and
On-board readers which could be installed on tractors and display tire problems on an in-cab monitor.
All three of these systems have uses in varying types of trucking operations, according to Ms. Fisher. But there are "significant obstacles in trucking that we don't have in cars and pickup trucks" when it comes to tire tags.
The big problem will be if NHTSA decides tractor-trailers are included in the TPMS mandates, and requires a "one-size-fits-all" solution such as on-board readers, she said.
"On-board monitors are appropriate for consumer vehicles," she said. "For cars, that's not a problem." The technology is also useful for truckers who are owner-operators, she added, but "on-board readers are not appropriate for all trucking environments. Gate and hand-held readers are more cost-effective for some."
Meanwhile, Nokian Tyres P.L.C., the Nokia, Finland-based tire maker, is perfecting its "Roadsnoop" intelligent tire technology, said Jukka Hakanen, development manager, research and testing for Nokian.
Consisting of a pressure sensor with Nokian's "Bluetooth" radio frequency interface, Roadsnoop not only records tire pressure, but also changes in road temperature.
When a motorist switches between summer and winter tires, the Roadsnoop sensors also can "remember" which position each tire had under the car—thus aiding in tire rotation.