WASHINGTON-The Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation Act was, in 2000, the most important piece of legislation for the tire industry. In 2001, it still is.
A group of far-reaching, TREAD Act-related regulations is due over the next several years from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The industry is living with it, trying to make the best of being the groom at a shotgun wedding.
``We didn't have much of a choice, did we, folks?'' said Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, at a Society of Automotive Engineers meeting in May 2001. ``But we adopted an approach of constructive collaboration in drafting the best legislation that could be constructed in that climate.''
Already two major regulations from the TREAD Act are pending. These are the ``early warning'' rule, in which auto, tire and equipment manufacturers must provide the agency with information that indicates possible product defects, and the tire pressure monitoring device rule, which will mandate such devices-complete with dashboard warning lights-on new U.S. vehicles by November 2003.
At presstime, the tire monitoring final rule still hadn't appeared, missing its November 2001 deadline because the Transportation Department was overwhelmed with issues stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The touchiest point in that rule for the tire industry was NHTSA's recommendation that monitoring systems would warn drivers of underinflation only when the tire is 20 or 25 percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended cold pressure. The Rubber Manufacturers Association wants a federal minimum tire load capacity requirement to counteract what it sees as safety problems arising from the 25-percent rule. The Tire Association of North America and the International Tire & Rubber Association concur.
NHTSA issued two relatively minor TREAD Act regulations and one other proposed rule in July, at the same time it released its tire monitoring proposal. The final rules involved informing NHTSA of the sale of defective tires and ``safe harbor'' regulations by which those who knowingly violated TREAD Act rules could avoid prosecution. The proposed rule was to reconcile the regulations of the TREAD Act with those of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act regarding the sale of defective tires, vehicles and parts.
At the end of November, the agency unveiled a consumer information campaign, ``Tire Safety: Everything Rides on It.'' The campaign was motivated by two tire tread and inflation studies NHTSA performed at the mandate of the TREAD Act, and all tire associations pledged their support.
By comparison, the legislative season for the tire industry was relatively lackluster, with virtually every industry-related bill stalled in the Sept. 11 aftermath.
The most important of these, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right-to-Repair Act, would require vehicle manufacturers to provide independent auto technicians with whatever diagnostic tools and service information they needed to repair late-model vehicles.
Letters of intent signed by the Association of Automobile Manufacturers and most of its members, however, could give auto repairers everything they want in diagnostic and service information without resorting to legislation, according to the Automotive Service Association.
Another bill, the Class Action Fairness Act of 2001, sought to move national class action lawsuits into federal courts from state courts and prevent plaintiffs' attorneys from taking the lion's share of jury awards. This bill was supported by tire industry associations, but faced an uphill battle even before Sept. 11.