A senior vehicle testing official for the federal government tried to assuage tire industry worries about upcoming regulations covering tire testing and tire pressure monitoring devices at this year's Clemson Tire Conference.
Revisions of federal tire safety standards are due by June 1, 2002, said George Soodoo, division leader in the Vehicle Dynamics Division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Issuance of the final rule on tire pressure monitoring device requirements, which was due Nov. 1, 2001, was imminent as of March 22, the last day of the conference at Hilton Head, he added.
The tire industry is concerned that both proposed rules as written will allow motorists to ride on severely underinflated tires while thinking they are safe. ``It was left up to the agency to determine congressional intent as to the definition of `severely underinflated,''' Mr. Soodoo admitted.
NHTSA's decision to change the load parameters in the high speed test in the tire safety standard, from 88 to 85 percent of the maximum load rating, was an attempt to address the industry demand for a mandated minimum reserve load, he said. Elsewhere, however, spokespersons for the Rubber Manufacturers Association have said the two concepts have nothing to do with each other.
Testing parameters under the proposed tire standard were compared with the baseline of both the current tire standard and the Global Tire Standard-2000 developed by the RMA and others in the late 1990s, according to Mr. Soodoo. Besides revisions of the current high speed and endurance tests, NHTSA wants to establish tests for bead unseating, road hazards and the effects of aging.
Several tire makers commented that a bead unseating test is unnecessary, but NHTSA wants that test in the final rule, Mr. Soodoo said.
``Bead unseating is a contributing factor in some rollovers, so measuring that is very important for the agency,'' he said. ``It's a tripping factor when the rim meets the road.''
NHTSA tested a total of 17 P-metric and seven light truck tires in Phases One and Two of developing the proposed rule, Mr. Soodoo said. This marks the first time light truck tires will be covered under a federal safety standard, and when NHTSA said in the preamble to the proposed rule that one-third of current tires couldn't pass the new tests, that referred mostly to light truck tires, he added.
``Most P-metric tires would pass, but many light truck tires may have to be upgraded,'' he said. ``We did not test every tire out there. One-third may be a slightly inflated figure, but it's based on the tires we tested.''
As for the tire pressure monitoring rule, NHTSA met with all known suppliers of tire pressure monitoring devices, as well as with vehicle and tire manufacturers to find out their experience with each system, Mr. Soodoo said.
This proposed standard has attracted as much public attention as any emanating from the Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation Act, he noted. There were 153 comments total to the agency on the proposal, and they contained no surprises.
``Advocacy groups and tire manufacturers want the better-performing system, vehicle manufacturers want the least expensive system, tire pressure monitoring system manufacturers want whatever they produce to be specified, and the public is split,'' Mr. Soodoo said. ``So NHTSA's left in the middle to make the decision.''
Already in February, the Office of Management and Budget slammed the brakes on NHTSA's draft final rule, insisting that the final document be rewritten to give more consideration to ``indirect'' monitoring systems linked to anti-lock braking systems. Joan Claybrook, president of the consumer protection group Public Citizen and a former NHTSA administrator, denounced the OMB's intervention and threatened to sue the government if the final rule is rewritten according to the OMB's demands.
Asked about Ms. Claybrook, Mr. Soodoo said, ``All I can say is that the agency has reviewed the objections Claybrook raised, and it wouldn't be the first time we have sat down with Public Citizen.''
The final rule has been changed slightly from the proposal, he added, but he wasn't at liberty to share those changes with the audience. ``You'll just have to be patient,'' he said.