WASHINGTON-Requiring a low-tire-pressure warning system would cost auto makers $66 per vehicle under one likely scenario, federal safety officials have estimated. But the benefits would be great, they said.
Besides preventing deaths and injuries, the systems would help drivers save fuel and get more miles from tires, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said.
NHTSA outlined the expected costs and benefits recently in rules proposed to implement the law requiring low-tire-pressure warning systems, beginning in November 2003. Congress and President Clinton enacted it last year in the wake of intense media coverage of tires that suffered tread separations and vehicles that flipped over.
The agency noted that few people check tire pressure regularly and that underinflated tires create a variety of safety hazards.
NHTSA previously considered requiring tire pressure sensors in 1970 and again in 1981, but dropped the idea because of concerns about reliability and cost.
While technology has improved and costs have dropped, NHTSA said there are many unanswered questions. The agency is asking for comments from interested parties by Sept. 6 so it can try to answer those questions in the final rules.
Auto makers and tire manufacturers differ on some issues, such as what level of underinflation should trigger a warning.
Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said motorists would learn to ignore alarms if they go off repeatedly from normal fluctuations in tire pressure.
``The rules should not be a crutch for poorly designed tires,'' she added.
The $66 system envisioned by NHTSA would include a sensor in each wheel that would transmit signals to a display. It would glow yellow when one or more tires were at least 20-percent underinflated.
The agency said other systems incorporated in vehicle anti-lock brake components would be less costly but probably also less accurate.