Maine tire dealers are waiting to see if state legislators will change a 2003 statute that restricts the speed and load rating options for tire replacements.
Bill L.D. 418, which would amend the statute and eliminate the speed and load rating requirements, has passed the state's transportation committee and is up for a vote by the full legislature. The original statute contains the following sentence, which L.D. 418 would strike out: ``A vehicle may be equipped only with tires that meet or exceed the load and speed rating of the original equipment tires.''
Members of the New England Tire & Service Association (NETSA) and the state police testified in a February public hearing before the state transportation committee against L.D. 418, when the legislation didn't specifically eliminate the speed and load ratings requirement, according to NETSA's Executive Director Dick Cole. He said NETSA believes the bill will pass but that he's not sure when the bill will be on the docket since legislators have been concentrating on the state budget.
``We're fairly confident,'' Mr. Cole said. ``Of course we have no way of knowing that without going through the process. I don't see any reason that it should get held up, but you never know.''
In March, the transportation committee unanimously approved a draft for the bill written by tire dealer Pam Cahill that added language eliminating the requirement, said Ray Simond, legislative director of the Maine Custom Auto Association. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Nancy E. Smith, also attached emergency status to the bill so that it becomes effective as soon as the governor signs it, Mr. Simond said.
The 2003 law restricted consumers in Maine because any vehicle stopped by a state trooper that had mixed and matched tires could be impounded, Mr. Cole said. He added that much of NETSA's support for opposing the statute came from consumers who called their representatives and complained about having to replace their tires with expensive high-performance tires.
Once the new bill passes, it will go through a rule-making process in which the state police likely will remove the former load and speed ratings requirement from the state inspections manual, according to Mr. Cole.
``(L.D. 418) allows the state police to look at the safety issues and try to come up with a verbiage that will satisfy safety as well as be reasonable to the consumer who generally doesn't want the higher performance tires on their vehicles,'' he said.
He noted that the state police would like to write guidelines in the manual that spell out proper tire replacements, but the Rubber Manufacturers Association still hasn't given NETSA any guidance on acceptable regulations.
Mr. Cole said the RMA had issued tire replacement guidelines to NETSA, but none of the RMA's recommendations answered eight specific questions Mr. Cole said he sent to the RMA in December on behalf of the legislature.
``Really, the state of Maine is looking for guidance from the tire industry and not getting it,'' he said. ``That's a major frustration I've got.''
An RMA spokesman told Tire Business that Mr. Cole's questions on specific tire/vehicle applications were difficult to answer because there are ``subsets within every vehicle/tire combination.'' He said the RMA's general tire replacement guidelines were developed by its members over time and consensus and ``speak for themselves.''
``I don't know that we could ever address every type of tire/vehicle combination out there,'' the spokesman said. ``That's why we expressly say that for questions that these guidelines don't apply to, you need to consult the vehicle manufacturer because there could be other issues that only the vehicle manufacturer can truly answer.''