DALLAS—The automotive industry analyst who won the 2001 Gerald R. Loeb Award for excellence in business journalism reports finding what he calls a significant problem with the Ford and Firestone database provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Longtime industry analyst and journalist Ed Wallace, host of the weekly radio show “Wheels With Ed Wallace,” reported to his listeners recently that he discovered an embedded “Sort Command” error in the database on June 28. He said he has found that it's not always a Firestone product quality failure but a simple programming error that often produces a record of a Firestone failure in the database that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has used to track tread separations.
NHTSA's view differs.
Mr. Wallace often uses his own software programs to validate the reams of data he uses in his radio show as well as in his weekly Wallace Report newsletter and columns he writes for national publications.
He broke his latest discovery June 30, 2001, during his program on Dallas AM radio station 570 KLIF, reporting that he had found a significant problem with the NHTSA database of Firestone problems on Ford Explorers.
He claims a flawed “Sort Command” would assign one incident of alleged tread separation to two completely different vehicles — one of which would only be a computer generated accident. It often then transposed data such as tire brand and type, mileage of vehicle and/or tires, and what manufacturing location had originally made the tires.
Reading his correspondence with NHTSA aloud on his show, including its thanks for his “independent verification of the error,” Mr. Wallace told his audience that this error could have induced reports in the media of many Firestone tire failures on Ford products — failures that never actually happened.
In responding to media inquiries, however, NHTSA has stated that the problem has been corrected, and that it only existed for 10 days. But Mr. Wallace doubts the accuracy of that statement as to the amount of time the database was flawed.
Additionally, the agency's Web site credits consumer advocacy group Safetyforum.com, not Mr. Wallace, with discovering the error.
However, in its two evening newscasts June 29, KDFW-FOX Four in Dallas reported independently verifying this problem based on Mr. Wallace's research and radio broadcast. Dallas' WFAA-ABC Channel Eight did similar investigative reporting of the issue on July 2.
Mr. Wallace's correspondence with NHTSA, the agency's replies to him, how he found this error, what it could mean to consumers and the original NHTSA database are available for download at www.Insideautomotive.com.