The tire industry has worked hard since the Firestone recall of August 2000 to make consumers aware of the importance of proper tire care.
Because the message hasn't sunk in yet, they're still working hard, according to a tire industry executive.
Patricia Brown, vice president of advertising and communications for Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., discussed the efforts the tire industry and her company have taken to communicate with the public since the recall during a presentation at the International Tire Exhibition and Conference, Sept. 10-12 in Akron.
Ms. Brown shared some eye-opening figures provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) regarding automobile tires and the people who drive on them today.
According to NHTSA, 27 percent of cars on the road have at least one seriously underinflated tire, Ms. Brown said. Using that figure and the number of U.S. passenger vehicles in 2001, no fewer than 56 million tires on the road may be underinflated.
In addition, NHTSA said 9 percent of cars have at least one bald tire, she said.
The RMA had more discouraging news.
According to a survey, nearly 90 percent of drivers show they don't seem to care about the dangerous situations they create by ignoring tire maintenance; 66 percent don't know where to find the proper tire inflation pressure; and 25 percent incorrectly believe they're better off having their tires a little bit underinflated when their vehicles are fully loaded.
Also, 29 million drivers believe tires require no regular maintenance and 25 million believe if a tire doesn't appear to be under-inflated, there's no need to check it, Ms. Brown said.
So while industry engineers have improved technology in tires over the past two decades, the downside is that consumers have taken them for granted, she said. The upshot is the industry is making great tires, but it hasn't communicated the message that tires still aren't fail-proof and do require maintenance.
The two-part NHTSA rule on tire pressure monitoring systems-the first part of which was recently issued-may hinder motorists' paying attention to tire safety as well, Ms. Brown said.
Since the original recall, the RMA has either expanded or unveiled several campaigns to inform and educate the public on tire care, she said. They include:
* An expansion of its consumer education program on tire care, announced in November 2000. The campaign has a theme-``Be Tire Smart, Play Your Part''-and a symbol, ``Phillip the Tire,'' to raise awareness to the program's tire safety message.
* A pre-Thanksgiving news release to remind holiday travelers about how under-inflated tires during long trips could lead to tire failure.
* Promotions during 2001 with the American Automobile Association, Discount Tire Co., the Tire Association of North America-now called the Tire Industry Association (TIA)-and selected state transportation departments.
* Regional concentrations of the ``Be Tire Smart'' campaign, with a focus in the Southwest U.S. in 2001, the Southeast U.S. this year and the West Coast in 2003. (Several ``Tire Safety Days'' are held in locations within each region.)
* The first-ever industry-sponsored ``National Tire Safety Week,'' held April 26-May 3 this year. TIA also was heavily involved in its promotion.
Other entities involved in safety campaigns have included the Rubber Association of Canada, NHTSA, the National Association of Attorneys General, state consumer protection agencies and Shell Oil Co., Ms. Brown said.
Cooper has done much on its own as well to promote tire education, she said. The company has communicated its commitment through dealer publications and advertising materials dealers could use locally. It also sent RMA tire safety kits-including 650,000 brochures and posters-to nearly 12,000 dealer locations, Ms. Brown said.
The tire maker also utilized its dealer network to distribute materials for a new tire safety program designed for driver education and consumer science classes. Cooper suggested the dealers work with local schools to help educate future drivers, she said.
In addition, Cooper has repainted some of its fleet trucks with a ``Check Air Pressure'' message; emphasized tire safety to employees through information in its corporate newsletter; offered numerous tips and instructions regarding tire safety on its Web site; and entered a three-year program with the National Safety Council, through which they will collaborate on a booklet called ``Tire Care for Safe Driving.''