WASHINGTON-Four long-awaited documents-including the all-important proposed rule to require the installation of tire pressure monitoring systems in vehicles-have been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
All four regulations are required under the provisions of the Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act, passed by Congress last fall in response to reports of tread separations on Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone tires. They were all published in the Federal Register between July 23 and 25.
Besides the proposal on tire pressure monitoring, the documents include:
* A final rule requiring anyone who knowingly sells or leases a defective tire to report that transaction to NHTSA;
* A ``safe harbor'' final rule spelling out the provisions under which people who knowingly misled NHTSA about auto and tire safety defects can avoid criminal penalties; and
* A proposed rule to reconcile the regulations of the TREAD Act and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act regarding the sale of defective vehicles, tires and parts.
The tire pressure monitoring proposed rule would cover all new passenger cars, light trucks, buses and multi-purpose passenger vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings of 10,000 pounds or less.
In the document, the agency presented two alternative regulations and asked for comments on both, to determine which should be in the final rule.
The first version would require a driver warning when pressure in one to four vehicle tires had fallen to 20 percent or more below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended cold inflation pressure or a minimum level of pressure to be specified in the new standard, whichever is higher. The second version is along the same lines, only it would be triggered when one to three tires had fallen 25 or more percent below the recommended pressure or a newly specified minimum pressure.
NHTSA estimates that tire pressure monitoring regulations could prevent 49 to 79 deaths and 6,585 to 10,635 injuries annually. Sept. 6 is the deadline for comments.
Compared with the tire pressure monitoring proposal, the other regulations are relatively minor, according to Ann Wilson, vice president of government affairs for the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).
The Washington-based group wanted the defective tire reporting final rule to be clearer in its requirements regarding manufacturer petitions for findings of inconsequential noncompliance, Ms. Wilson said. But it had no problems with the basic thrust of the rule. ``It is very important to get tires that have been called defective off the road,'' she said.
Meanwhile, the safe harbor rule states that persons making misleading product safety reports to NHTSA can avoid criminal penalties if they had no knowledge of the safety defect at the time they wrote their reports, and if they correct them within 30 days. The RMA had no comment on this regulation, Ms. Wilson said.
But the association will have extensive comments on the tire pressure monitoring proposal, which is ``a major rule'' for the RMA's tire manufacturing members. NHTSA has only until Nov. 1 to issue a final rule on this topic, and the regulation must go into effect Nov. 1, 2003, in time for the 2004 vehicle model year, Ms. Wilson noted.
``It's important for us to restate our position-that a tire is `seriously underinflated' when it falls beneath the standards of the Tire and Rim Association,'' Ms. Wilson said. ``It's difficult to tell you how this rule will address our position.'' Under the TRA standards, ``the pressure needs to carry the maximum load'' is the major concern, she added.
Becky MacDicken, director of government affairs for the Tire Association of North America, said that while TANA is still reviewing the four documents, ``in general, all of them are good regulations. They prove that the TREAD Act is a solid piece of legislation that will target the bad apples.''
Particularly regarding the tire pressure monitoring proposal, Ms. MacDicken said TANA is ``looking at (whether) there's a necessity for the government to do an across-the-board regulation, or whether they can take another approach.''