The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published the long-awaited new federal tire performance and testing standards, although the new regulations don't take effect until June 1, 2007.
The new final rule-known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 139-replaces the existing 35-year-old rule No. 109 for all radial tires for passenger vehicles, trucks, buses and trailers weighing less than 10,000 pounds.
Exempt from the new ruling are bias-ply tires and small trailer, retreaded and non-pneumatic spare tires-a stipulation that will ease the collective minds of specialty tire manufacturers Denman Tire Corp., Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. and Specialty Tires of America Inc. (STA), which had sought the bias-ply exemption.
NHTSA published the new rule June 26 in the Federal Register, meaning interested parties have until Aug. 11 to petition the agency for reconsideration of the rule.
Tire makers and industry associations contacted by Tire Business declined to comment specifically on the new regulations until their experts had had sufficient time to study the document.
That tire industry officials will want a reconsideration seems likely. While the agency made some concessions in the final rule to industry comment on the original March 5, 2002, proposal, it did not give tire makers everything they wanted. In particular, it insisted on maintaining the more stringent testing requirements for limited-production, snow and deep-tread radial tires, although it did exempt all bias-ply tires as well as small trailer, retreaded and non-pneumatic spare tires.
The previous tire safety standard will remain in effect for bias tires, while retreads and non-pneumatic spares will continue to be covered by the relevant federal standards already in place.
``We haven't even studied it yet, although we've downloaded it off the NHTSA Web site,'' said Donald B. Shea, president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, on June 24. A committee of engineers from RMA member companies is reading the document now to determine the association's response, he added.
Mr. Shea pointed out that the RMA petitioned NHTSA in January 1999 for a revised tire performance standard, based on the ``Global Tire Standard 2000'' harmonization effort made under the aegis of the Transatlantic Business Dialogue. The agency granted the petition but didn't act on it before passage of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act in October 2000.
``We're not johnny-come-latelies to this process,'' Mr. Shea said.
It was the RMA that requested exemptions for radial snow and deep-tread radials, while Denman, Hoosier and STA requested exemptions for the limited-production bias-ply and radial tires they make for the racing, classic car and other markets.
``That would have a drastic negative effect on the specialty radial tire industry,'' said Tom Schultz, vice president and general counsel for Indiana, Pa.-based STA. The firm does not make radial tires, he said, ``but that doesn't mean we wouldn't.''
Covered under 139, according to the NHTSA final rule, are all new radial tires for passenger cars, multi-purpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses and trailers weighing under 10,000 pounds. All radial P-metric and LT tires with Load Ranges C, D, or E are included-marking the first time light truck tires have been covered by federal safety standards, the agency said.
A centerpiece of 139 is the high speed and endurance test, which is stricter than in 109 but still not as stringent as the agency first proposed. The high-speed test rules specify testing speeds of 140, 150 and 160 kilometers per hour, while the endurance test requires speeds and distances 50 percent longer than those required by 109, NHTSA said.
The rule also requires a low inflation pressure test that seeks to ensure a minimum safety standard for tires when they operate at 20 psi, the minimum level of inflation at which tire pressure monitoring systems will be required to warn motorists. ``This requirement mirrors conditions of long-distance family travel and will assist in ensuring that tires will withstand conditions of severe underinflation during highway travel in fully loaded conditions,'' the agency said.
NHTSA said, however, it needed to conduct more research before it could put forth meaningful testing requirements for road hazard impact and aging, or create a bead unseating resistance standard more relevant than that already in 109.
For example, the agency estimated it would need about two more years of research before it could issue a proposal on an aging test. It said it has begun a dialogue with various members of the tire industry, who have offered to share their data on aging.
NHTSA estimates the final rule as written will cost the tire industry between $3.6 million and $31.6 million annually, with an annual prevention of one to four deaths and 23 to 102 injuries. ``The final rule will increase the required level of performance for all tires and will improve the strength, endurance and heat resistance of the 5 to 11 percent of tires that will have to be redesigned or modified to achieve compliance,'' the agency said.
NHTSA raised eyebrows when it issued its proposed rule by estimating that as many as one-third of the tires on U.S. highways would fail the proposed tests. The Rubber Manufacturers Association went the agency one further, estimating that 40 percent of passenger tires and more than half of current LT tires would fail.
The new tire performance rule is a cornerstone of the TREAD Act, whose creation and passage were motivated largely by the tread separation accidents that led to the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires.
Becky MacDicken, director of government affairs for the Tire Industry Association, said TIA ``is pleased with the fact the bias-ply tires and retreads are exempt from this final tire testing rule.''
However, the association ``remains concerned that snow and specialty tires are included in the standard,'' she added. ``We fear that many specialty and snow tires will not be able to pass these tests and will therefore remove these tires from the marketplace.''
TIA commended NHTSA for postponing regulatory action on the aging, bead unseating and road hazard impact tests until further studies can be conducted. Ms. MacDicken said ``further analysis on the more technical aspects of the rule is required, and it will take time for the industry to realize the full effects of this final rule.''