The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has decided to go back to the drawing board on tire pressure monitoring systems-and, in all likelihood, do something much like what it did originally.
A NHTSA spokesman said the agency will not appeal an Aug. 6 ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit of New York that reverses and remands the June 5, 2002, final rule. That rule set forth the phase-in schedule for vehicle tire pressure monitoring devices beginning with the 2004 model year.
The spokesman had nothing further to say about NHTSA's plans and did not set forth any potential timetable for the agency to issue a revised tire monitoring standard.
The appeals court made its ruling at the behest of Public Citizen, the Center for Auto Safety (CAS) and the New York Public Interest Research Group, which stated in their lawsuit that the tire monitoring rule was ``arbitrary and capricious'' and inadequate to protect the safety of motorists.
NHTSA's original proposal heavily favored devices that monitor the pressures of all four tires on a vehicle directly. In February 2002, however, the Office of Management and Budget informed the agency that it wouldn't sign off on the final rule unless it contained language that gave at least equal weight to devices that recorded pressures indirectly based on the operations of the vehicles' anti-lock brake systems.
The OMB, taking up the position of automobile manufacturers, argued that indirect systems could have an equal safety benefit to direct systems because of their use in tandem with anti-lock brakes.
In its final rule, NHTSA allowed auto makers to use either direct or indirect monitoring systems on vehicles between Nov. 1, 2003, and Oct. 31, 2006. It set itself a deadline of March 1, 2005, to set long-term standards for tire monitoring systems with an effective date of Nov. 1, 2006.
The three consumer groups argued that direct monitoring systems would offer vastly greater protection to motorists against severe tire underinflation than indirect devices, at a cost of less than $9.74 more per vehicle, according to the CAS press release. They also claimed that indirect systems were only a back-door way for auto makers to force motorists to buy anti-lock brakes.
Judge Robert D. Sack concurred with the consumer groups in his decision. ``Absent any satisfactory explanation in the rulemaking record, the adoption of a standard that permits installation of plainly inferior systems seems to us to be arbitrary and capricious,'' he wrote.
As part of its preparation for drafting a new tire pressure monitoring rule, NHTSA sent special interrogatory letters Sept. 9 to auto makers and manufacturers of tire pressure monitoring systems, requiring they answer various questions relating to the systems.
The agency is asking tire monitoring system manufacturers questions such as whether they are under contract with any auto makers to supply four-tire pressure monitoring systems as original equipment, and, if so, whether the devices are of direct, indirect or hybrid design.
Auto makers, among other things, are asked to provide tables in electronic form by make and model for model years 2004-2008, stating the projected production of vehicles with tire pressure monitoring systems installed and breaking them down into vehicles with direct, indirect and hybrid systems.
Officials of Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety issued no comments on NHTSA's decision. However, in a press release, CAS celebrated the original court ruling.
``This decision will block the pro-industry, anti-consumer deregulatory campaign of the Bush administration,'' said CAS Executive Director Clarence M. Ditlow III in the release. ``Direct tire pressure monitors are more accurate and will prevent 50 percent more deaths and injuries each year than indirect systems.''