They may not be bedfellows, but at least they're sharing a house.
The tire industry and consumer safety advocacy groups alike expressed deep disappointment-for different reasons-over the compromise final rule on tire pressure monitoring devices the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued May 30.
Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook-herself NHTSA administrator under President Jimmy Carter-said she will make good her earlier threat to sue the agency over any tire monitoring rule that didn't mandate devices which directly record tire pressures.
The Washington-based Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), meanwhile, was chagrined to find that the final rule didn't even address its concerns that NHTSA's underinflation percentage parameters would leave motorists thinking that dangerously underinflated tires were still safe. The Tire Association of North America (TANA), which supports the RMA's call for a reserve inflation pressure capacity requirement for tires, also was disappointed.
Public Citizen, the RMA and TANA are on opposite sides from the auto industry and the Office of Management and Budget, which forced NHTSA to consider the application of ``indirect'' monitoring systems to the final rule.
NHTSA is nearly seven months late issuing the standard, which was due Nov. 1, 2001, under the deadline set by the Transportation Recall Efficiency, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act.
In its proposed rule, the agency heavily favored a ``direct'' tire pressure monitoring system. In a Feb. 12 letter to NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge, however, John Graham-administrator of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs-said his agency wouldn't sign off on the final rule unless NHTSA gave at least equal weight to indirect systems.
An indirect system-based on the rotational speed of tires on vehicles with anti-lock brake systems-would also improve safety while costing less than a direct device, Mr. Graham said in the letter.
The final rule, as Mr. Runge said during congressional testimony in March, is a two-part affair. The first part, covering the period between Nov. 1, 2003, and Oct. 31, 2006, requires vehicle manufacturers to equip all new vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less with tire pressure monitoring systems.
However, during this period car makers would have their choice of two compliance modes. The first, relevant to direct monitoring systems, would require the monitoring system to warn the driver when any one tire or combination of tires on the vehicle is 25 percent or more below either the vehicle maker's recommended cold inflation pressure or a minimum pressure specified in the standard, whichever is higher.
The second, designed for indirect systems, requires the system to warn the driver when any one tire is 30 or more percent below either the car maker's recommended pressure or the minimum set by the standard.
By March 1, 2005, NHTSA will issue its long-term standards for tire monitoring, with an effective date of Nov. 1, 2006. The agency will leave its rulemaking docket open for input on possible new monitoring methods and technologies.
``Based on the record now before the agency, NHTSA tentatively believes that the four-tire, 25-percent option would best meet the mandate of the TREAD Act,'' stated the executive summary to the final rule. ``However, it is possible that the agency may obtain or receive new information that is sufficient to justify a continuation of the compliance options established by the first part of this final rule, or the adoption of some other alternative.''
Any alternative to a direct monitoring system is unacceptable to Public Citizen's Ms. Claybrook, as she made plain in her May 30 statement posted on the group's Web site.
``The federal rule issued today...is inadequate and perpetrates a fraud on consumers,'' Ms. Claybrook said. Not only will consumers receive fewer safety benefits from the cheaper indirect systems, she said, but auto makers can also charge a high markup for direct systems.
RMA President Donald B. Shea was equally gloomy, saying the final rule could allow some tires to operate at inflation pressures insufficient to carry vehicle load.
>From the early stages of the standard, the RMA has reiterated that not warning drivers of underinflation before the tire falls to 25 or 30 percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommended pressure is an invitation to danger. Last October, the association proposed the reserve inflation pressure capacity requirement to make up for the deficiency in the proposed rule. All other tire-related associations in the U.S. joined the RMA in this call.
``A tire pressure monitoring system should warn a driver when a tire can no longer carry the vehicle's load,'' Mr. Shea said in a press release. ``NHTSA's final rule for tire pressure monitoring systems will not ensure the spirit and mandate of the TREAD Act and could result in unsafe conditions for motorists.''
TANA also is concerned about the new standard, for the same reasons as the RMA and for reasons of its own, said Becky MacDicken, TANA director of government affairs.
``Tires do not perform safely at those inflation levels,'' Ms. MacDicken said. ``This puts more pressure on manufacturers to create tires that run safely at those inflations.''
Even beyond that, tire dealers have real concerns on the service level regarding this rule, she said. ``The other side is how our members are going to service tires with these systems when the original equipment manufacturers keep all the information to themselves. We must have access to that information.''
Not surprisingly, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has exactly the opposite reaction to the standard.
``We're very pleased that NHTSA made a decision that was based on science and facts,'' an AAM spokesman said. ``The flexibility of this ruling will give auto makers the ability to make vehicles that are safe for our customers.''