Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, is sponsoring a bill requiring retailers to tell customers when their tires were made and initiating a study on tire aging and safety.
Although the tire industry is working with Mr. DeWine on the legislation, industry officials maintain it is premature to go ahead with a tire age information requirement-at least until the tire aging studies are completed.
``Tires are not like wine-they don't get better with age,'' said Mr. DeWine at a Jan. 23 news conference to announce the bill and four other highway safety-related measures.
Besides requiring consumer information on the age of tires sold to the public, the DeWine bill would direct the National Academy of Sciences to perform a definitive study on how both used and unused tires age.
The study would try to pinpoint ``when tire age constitutes a danger,'' the senator said. He noted there is scientific evidence that tires increasingly are prone to safety problems as they grow older, but current data on the subject aren't comprehensive.
Tire sidewalls already carry codes telling the date of manufacture, but Mr. DeWine said those are difficult to read. ``We need to provide consumers with the ability to make use of that information,'' he said.
The bill directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create a rule requiring consumer tire age information at the point of purchase-perhaps on the invoice or separately-but ``we leave it up to the department as to the best way to provide that information,'' Mr. DeWine said. He is continuing to discuss the matter with tire industry representatives.
``No one is more concerned about the safety of tires than those who make them,'' he said. ``They've been very cooperative with us.'' Representatives of the Rubber Manufacturers Association and Goodyear acknowledged they are working with Mr. DeWine's office.
An RMA spokesman, however, said the entire industry agrees with a Jan. 29 letter sent to Mr. DeWine by the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).
In the letter, the two groups said tire manufacturers and retailers shouldn't be required to disseminate tire aging information before the aging studies are finished and Congress has had time to consider them.
``If NHTSA concludes that there is a more pressing time frame for addressing the issue, it already has authority to undertake a rulemaking,'' TIA and SEMA said in the letter. Giving consumers tire aging information without context, it added, may cause them to ``misinterpret the information and refuse to buy perfectly good tires or discard used tires before it is necessary.''
Mr. DeWine, who provided little information about the cost and feasibility of the bill, said it and the other bills he proposed wouldn't cost much. ``This is information that's already out there,'' he said. ``All we need to do is make it available to the public.''
The senator said he believed he could get all five of his bills included in omnibus highway legislation. That legislation, sources said, could reach a cloture vote-a vote to end debate and proceed to a roll call vote-as early as the late afternoon of Feb. 2.
Representatives of safety groups such as Consumers Union and Public Citizen endorsed Mr. DeWine's legislation at the news conference. Besides the tire aging bill, Mr. DeWine's bills include:
* A bill to change the information on vehicle price stickers to include information on the vehicle's performance in government crash testing;
* A bill to incorporate child-sized test dummies in crash and rollover tests and to examine ways to prevent power window, backover and seatbelt accidents that disproportionately affect children;
* A bill to make state information on dangerous roads and intersections available to the public; and
* A bill to create a National Office of Driver Training within NHTSA and a blueprint for a ``best practices'' guideline for driver instruction.