WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2003) — When the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act was passed in October 2000, tire industry pundits said it would remain their most important governmental issue for at least the next decade.
And 2003 did nothing to prove them wrong, as the “early warning” data reporting, tire testing and tire pressure monitoring requirements of the TREAD Act all made headlines.
After several postponements, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) set Dec. 1 as the deadline by which tire and auto manufacturers had to make their first data submissions under the TREAD Act's “early warning” rule. Such information, according to the rule, is designed to help the agency determine early on if there is any defect trend in a vehicle, tire or part.
On July 28, the agency ruled that tire manufacturers could have confidential treatment for production, warranty and consumer complaint data they submitted to NHTSA, as well as for field reports. These exemptions gave tire makers some of the confidentiality protection they sought, but the Rubber Manufacturers Association seeks further confidentiality coverage for its members.
The tire industry also has yet to hear back from NHTSA on other TREAD Act-related issues.
On June 23, the agency issued new, stringent tire performance testing standards—the first complete rewrite of the rules since 1968. By August, the tire industry had filed several petitions for changes to the rules.
Denman Tire Corp., the Leavittsburg, Ohio-based specialty tire maker, sought an exemption for performance testing for specialty radial tires. Not only could Denman not survive making only specialty bias tires, the company said, but requiring testing of specialty radials would swing the specialty market entirely toward weaker, lower-traction bias tires.
Meanwhile, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association (JATMA) and European Tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO) all complained that few if any snow and light truck tires could pass NHTSA's new laboratory en-durance test requirements.
JATMA and ETRTO sought outright exemptions from the rule, while the RMA asked for amendments “to produce results that correlate with real-world performance.”
Not content with petitioning NHTSA, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety took the agency to court to overturn what they called the “arbitrary and capricious” tire pressure monitoring standard issued in June 2002. On Aug. 6, 2003, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the consumer groups' favor, ordering the agency to rewrite the rule to favor systems that monitor tire pressures directly.
While NHTSA is not appealing the court's decision, it still hasn't answered the RMA's petition for a minimum reserve inflation pressure for tires after nearly a year and a half. When the standard allows tire pressures to fall as low as 30 percent below the vehicle manufacturer's recommendation before alerting motorists, the RMA said, a reserve pressure rule is vital for safety's sake.